Amicus argues that the policy is vague and the streets, despite privatization, are public fora

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a friend-of-the-court brief today in the Virginia Supreme Court on behalf of Kevin Hicks, who was arrested for trespassing while walking down a sidewalk at a public housing complex in Richmond. Prior to the arrest, the management at Whitcomb Court Apartments had told Hicks not to return to the property, invoking a policy that allows anyone to be banned if they do not have a “legitimate business or social purpose” for being there. Hicks did not live on the property, but was visiting his mother and son, who do.
The banning policy was adopted as part of a City of Richmond plan to fight crime in public housing by deeding to the Housing Authority the public streets and sidewalks that run through the public housing complexes. Those streets and sidewalks would then become private property, which would give the Housing Authority greater control over who uses them.
“If the City of Richmond is allowed to circumvent our constitutional right to travel by merely transforming public property into private property,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis, “we run the risk turning our cities into gated communities.”
In a three year trip through the Virginia court system, the U.S. Supreme Court and now back to the Virginia Supreme Court, the ACLU of Virginia and Hick’s lawyer, Stephen Benjamin, have argued that the RRHA policy is overbroad, vague, and a violation of the right to move about in a free society.
The Virginia Court of Appeals originally ruled that the sidewalks of the apartment complex, despite being “privatized” by the City of Richmond, were still public fora and that Hicks could not be banned from using them. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the policy was overbroad, but was silent on the public forum question. The U.S. Supreme Court then ruled last year that the policy was not overbroad, but remanded the case to the Virginia Supreme Court to resolve the other issues.
Today’s amicus argues that the policy is too vague and that the streets of Whitcomb Court are a public forum on which Hicks may exercise his First Amendment right to move freely from place to place.
A copy of the ACLU amicus brief is available from the ACLU of Virginia by calling the number below or sending an email to acluva@acluva.org.

Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022 Rebecca K. Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022

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