So far in 2021, over a thousand people came to FIRE when their rights were in jeopardy.

Hear their stories — and how we're fighting back — by subscribing today.

First Amendment Library:
Harvey Grossman


Concerned about an increase in street crime, the City of Chicago conducted hearings about gang-related crime in 1992. These hearings resulted in a "gang loitering" ordinance which prohibits people police "reasonably believe" to be gang members from "loitering in any public place with one or more persons." The city arrested over 43,000 people under the law until an appeals court struck it down on First Amendment grounds in 1995, finding that the law "violates the freedom of association, assembly and expression secured by the First Amendment" and a similar provision in the Illinois Constitution. The Illinois Supreme Court also ruled the law unconstitutional, though it struck the law down on due-process, rather than First Amendment, grounds. More than 70 defendants convicted under the ordinance appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. A law must provide adequate notice of proscribable conduct and not grant unfettered discretion to the police. A law must establish sufficient standards for the police and public — or it can be ruled unconstitutionally vague. The freedom to loiter for innocent purposes is a liberty interest protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


O'Hare Truck Service had provided towing services for the City of Northlake, Illinois, since 1965. In 1993, the mayor of Northlake, who was seeking reelection, asked O'Hare for a campaign contribution. O'Hare refused and instead publicly supported the mayor's opponent. Shortly thereafter, O'Hare was removed from the list of towing services used by Northlake. O'Hare sued in federal court, alleging that Northlake had violated its First Amendment rights. The district court dismissed the complaint, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the First Amendment protections available to governmental employees did not extend to independent contractors. The First Amendment prevents the government from terminating employees who speak on matters of public concern. Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138 (1983). Governmental workers also are constitutionally protected from dismissal for supporting or affiliating with a political party, unless such affiliation reasonably can be considered an appropriate job qualification. Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507 (1980); Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347 (1976). To prevail in an unlawful termination claim, the employee must show that the protected conduct was a substantial or motivating factor in the termination. Even upon such a showing, the government can prevail if it can show that it would have taken the same action absent the protected conduct or if sufficiently strong countervailing governmental interests exist. Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977);Pickering v. Board of Education of Township High School Dist., 391 U.S. 563 (1968).