Constitutional Law

1st Circuit Upholds Town’s Scarlet Letter--an Orange Sticker--for Unruly Gatherings


A federal appeals court has upheld a law authorizing police officers in Narragansett, R.I., to post bright orange stickers on homes that have hosted unruly gatherings.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island had contended the Narragansett sticker statute could stigmatize landlords and tenants, violating their due process rights, the National Law Journal reports.

The ruling by the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the ACLU theory, saying a due process claim can’t rest on reputational harm alone. Nor is there a First Amendment violation, the court found, because the right of association does not cover purely social gatherings.

The opinion left open the possibility of an as-applied challenge on more fully developed facts.

When police are called to a Narragansett home to break up a disturbance that violates the law, they are authorized to post a bright orange sticker on the premises. t warns that a second police intervention could result in liability for landlords and tenants alike, as well as the party host and any guests who cause a nuisance.

The opinion describes the ordinance as “novel” and Naragansett as “a sleepy seaside community” where “the sheer mass of exuberant young people and their predilections have proven to be a threat to the quality of life in a quiet enclave.”

The record didn’t explain why the color orange was selected, the court said in a footnote. “Thus, like Nathaniel Hawthorne reflecting on a similar conundrum, one wonders if there is ‘some deep meaning in it, most worthy of interpretation, and which, as it were, streamed forth from the mystic symbol, subtly communicating itself to [one’s] sensibilities, but evading the analysis of [one’s] mind.’ Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, intro. (1850). In the end, however, the choice of hue, though perplexing, is not relevant to the issues on appeal.”

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