The U.S. Supreme Court has apparently decided not to hear a Massachusetts case about a panhandling ban in street medians, meaning an appeals court ruling in a similar case in Portland could come within a few months.

Opponents of a panhandling ban in Worcester, Massachusetts, asked the nation’s highest court to weigh in on whether the ban is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. But the justices on Monday did not address that request, meaning the case almost certainly will not be heard. Lower courts previously had allowed Worcester’s ban to remain in effect.

“The U.S. Supreme Court did nothing with the Worcester case. It’s not listed for any further conferences,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

The city of Portland argued its own median panhandling case before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston on Friday, seeking to overturn a ruling in U.S. District Court in Portland last winter that said the Portland ordinance was unconstitutional.

Had the U.S. Supreme Court taken up the Worcester case, it could have had an impact on whether Portland’s ordinance banning people from standing, sitting or staying in median strips could be salvaged.

The ACLU of Maine helped lead the effort in federal court in Maine to overturn the Portland ordinance, which was passed by the City Council in 2013. The City Council acted after citing safety concerns in response to the growing number of people who stand in medians between traffic lanes, holding cardboard signs seeking money.


Portland appealed the ruling, seeking to have the panhandling ban reinstated on grounds that it is too dangerous to have people lingering between lanes of moving traffic for any reason.

In its appeal to the circuit court, the city hopes to overturn a ruling by U.S. District Judge George Singal last February that the Portland ordinance was unconstitutional. Following that order, the city agreed to refrain from enforcing the ordinance while the case is pending. In the meantime, panhandling on street medians has remained a common practice in Portland.

Jessica Grondin, spokeswoman for the city of Portland, said that without an explicit denial by the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the Worcester case, she was hesitant to comment.

“If they did deny, we do think that’s a pro for our case and hopefully the First Circuit will be able to act more expeditiously,” Grondin said.

One of the appellate court panelists, Judge Jeffrey Howard, said during last week’s hearing that the 1st Circuit could delay issuing an opinion until the U.S. Supreme Court acted.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has apparently decided not to not hear the Worcester case, the appeals court will likely issue its opinion on the Portland ordinance sooner than expected, possibly within three months, Heiden said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.