SCOTUS Won't Hear Challenge to Honking Law

California woman argued that hitting the horn as 'personal expression' is protected free speech
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 11, 2023 8:36 AM CDT
Updated Mar 2, 2024 4:20 PM CST
She Says Car-Honking Is Free Speech. Appeals Court Says No
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Artfoliophoto)
UPDATE Feb 26, 2024 5:06 PM CST

The Supreme Court has declined to hear a case on whether honking a car horn is protected free speech, leaving in place a lower court's ruling upholding a California law that bans excessive honking. Lawyers for Susan Porter, who was ticketed in 2017 after honking in support of anti-Donald Trump protesters outside the office of GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, said they were disappointed and they hope the issue will be revisited in future cases, the Hill reports. "We continue to believe that sounding the vehicle horn to support a protest or engage in personal expression is a core First Amendment right," said David Loy, legal director for the First Amendment Coalition," calling such honking a "longstanding tradition."

Apr 11, 2023 8:36 AM CDT

If you're tempted to honk your car horn in support of protesters, you might want to think twice in California. That's because on Friday, a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a lower court's ruling against Susan Porter, deciding that honking one's horn isn't free speech. The case saw its origins in October 2017, when Porter repeatedly leaned on her car horn in solidarity with protesters she was driving past outside of GOP Rep. Darrell Issa's office in Vista, who were demonstrating against Issa's support of then-President Trump, per the Washington Post.

Porter honked her horn a total of 14 times, in short bursts, as she cruised by the demonstrators—and was subsequently pulled over by a San Diego County sheriff's deputy, who gave her a ticket and cited her for misusing her car horn. The citation came about because Porter was said to have violated a 1913 law that prohibits anyone from using the horn for anything other than warning other drivers, per Courthouse News. Although that citation was dismissed the following February when the deputy didn't show in court, Porter brought a lawsuit, claiming her First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights had been violated.

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Porter noted that honking wasn't just for political speech, but also for celebrating good news, greeting people, or alerting someone that you'd arrived to pick them up. The lower court's decision against her, however, was handed down in February 2021, which the appeals court upheld last week. "[For] the horn to serve its intended purpose as a warning device, it must not be used indiscriminately," Judge Michelle Friedland wrote for the majority, per the Post. Friedland added that there were other ways to show support for protesters, including waves, giving a thumbs-up, and bumper stickers. Dissenting Judge Marsha Berzon disagreed, noting, per the Metropolitan News-Enterprise: "Honking at a political protest is a core form of expressive conduct that merits the most stringent constitutional protection." (More honking stories.)

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