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California woman takes her honking citation to the U.S. Supreme Court

California woman takes her honking citation to the U.S. Supreme Court

A California woman who was cited for honking as she drove by a political protest has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to address her case.

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Susan Porter, of Oceanside, contends that the state Vehicle Code — in allowing honking only as a warning of danger or a theft deterrent — violates her First Amendment right to “expressive honking.”

In April, a three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected her claim. Porter’s request for an en banc hearing — before all of the appellate court’s judges — was rejected, and last month she filed the petition to the nation’s highest court.

The case began on Oct. 17, 2017, when Porter was cited for “unreasonable use of a vehicle horn” after she honked an estimated 14 times as she drove past a protest outside the Vista office of Rep. Darrell Issa.

Though the citation was dismissed because the sheriff’s deputy who issued it did not show up in traffic court, Porter filed a civil suit alleging that her subsequent fear of again being cited resulted in her “censoring herself by refraining from using her vehicle horn for expressive purposes.”

The appeals court agreed that “at least some of the honking prohibited by Section 27001 is expressive for First Amendment purposes” and that Porter’s “expressive activity is being chilled.” The majority opinion, however, upheld the regulation as constitutional, citing the government’s “substantial interest” in traffic safety.  The ruling accepted the argument that non-warning honking presents a traffic danger.

In her dissent, Judge Marsha Berzon advocated prohibiting the enforcement of Section 27001 against “political protest honking,” though she conceded applying the injunction to “expressive” honking would be too vague to be enforceable.