Breaking news: Judge rules sit-lie law unconstitutional

sit-lie2(3:00 P.M.) Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Stephen K. Bushong has ruled that the city of Portland’s sidewalk-obstruction ordinance – commonly referred to as sit-lie, unconstitutionally exceeds the city’s authority.

The ruling was released today, and grants the motion to dismiss a sit-lie case being defended by attorney Clayton Lance.

“This ordinances has been found unconstitutional on three separate and distinct ground,” Lance told Street Roots. “That’s a heck of a lot of unconstitutionality for one little ordinance out of the city. It just is not going to work and they just keep trying to make it fit, and it will never be able to fit in my opinion.”

The sit-lie law prohibits sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. The city has maintained it is to keep the sidewalks free of obstructions. Records show that the majority of people cited under the law are homeless.

Judge Bushong ruled that the city’s law conflicts with and is preempted by state law; State v. Robison, which Lance says already allows the city to penalize people for obstructing sidewalks.

“The (sit-lie) ordinance does not at all deal with obstruction. That’s a myth,” Lance said.“It was to move the transient and the homeless because the transient and homeless were sitting on the sidewalks in downtown Portland. Nothing else.”

As Lance noted, this is the latest round in the city’s failed attempts to institute a sit-lie law. In 2004, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Marilyn Litzenberger ruled that the city’s 2003 version of the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The current version was a response to that ruling with more specific information on what was and was not prohibited. The Court of Appeals further ruled that the 2003 version was preempted by state law, the same as Bushong’s ruling.

“In the United States, we fundamentally respect the rights of individuals to meet, to assemble, to communicate and to use public property. And (the city’s) attempts at curtailing those fundamental rights have been unconstitutional every step of the way.”

It is altogether likely the city will revise its ordinance for another round. Lance says he is ready to defend any charges under the ordinance for free.

“Because of social justice and compassion,” Lance said. “We need to have social justice and compassion. And this law lacks that completely.”

Update: City Commissioner Amanda Fritz told Street Roots she is reviewing the ruling and communicating with the City Attorney’s office before making a formal comment. She does say though, “I am currently hoping our public meetings over the summer will go ahead as planned, as now more than ever we need to talk together to figure out solutions that work for everyone.” Read more about the public meetings.

A judge is also suppose to rule this week on weather or not a lawsuit brought against the city by the Oregon Law Center on the camping ordinance should be heard.

Street Roots coverage from the last time sit-lie was ruled unconstitutional in 2004.

12 responses to “Breaking news: Judge rules sit-lie law unconstitutional

  1. the fact that the city ignored the determination years ago by Judge Gallagher that sit-lie was unconstitutional indicates they’ll shine on Bushong as well. Besides, the mayor and others are too busy dismissing the importance of preserving affordable housing in Lents to deal with something with as low a priority as Constitutional guarantees for the poor.

  2. this is good news. now we have to keep council honest and keep reminding them it is unconstitutional.

  3. I have a feeling PPB will try to ignore this ruling. Stand fast and let them screw up, then sue their asses.

  4. Just yesterday I sent and rather long email to CNN and Fox News investigative reporters concerning Portland Oregon’s treatment of our ever growing homeless community. I ask them to do and in depth study of the issues. Now I will be forwarding this latest update to them as well with the query of how a city can accept Federal Monies and then discriminate and criminalize the very folks the Federal Monies were intended to help.

  5. Pingback: Portland Sitting/lying on the Sidewalk Law gets Removed from my Shitlist. « The PLAZOID

  6. Peace be with you

    Can anyone get me contact information for Clayton? If so E-mail me at

    We would like to see if we can find correlating case law in California to strike down our own sit/lie laws.

    love eternal

  7. Peasant Dreams

    Isn’t there a ruling that a legislative body that continues to pass similiar unconstitutional statues repeatedly is liable to under declarative relief? Next time Portland passes a law like this, not only get the law struck down hit those creeps with a massive civil suit. Make the bastards pay!

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  12. Do you have access to this decision?

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