The recent diatribes against the ACLU and PAS-led curfew case here in Lake Oswego have concerned me. First and foremost I am 17 years old, and for the next four months I will remain beholden to the curfew laws that are in place. While this court case in the end will have no practical effect on my life, I support its purpose, not only because the ordinance is oppressive and glaringly unconstitutional, but because the decriers of this case are simply ill-informed on the legal issues at hand.
To understand why curfews can be considered unconstitutional an in-depth look must be taken into the facts of the case at hand. In our legal system, lower courts must uphold the rulings of superior courts, these superior court rulings are known as precedent. Currently the precedent set forth by the case of Nunez v. city of San Diego in the Ninth circuit court of appeals (which all Oregon courts are required to uphold) holds that curfew laws that are exceedingly vague are unconstitutional. The ruling states that 'citizens have a fundamental right of free movement' and the phrase 'loiter, wander, idle, stroll or play' is unconstitutionally vague.' A quick look at the Lake Oswego ordinance requires all youth under the age of 18 to be off the streets before 10:15 or earlier on a school night.. The ordinance does have exceptions for going to and from work and for purposes of 'entertainment.' To outright ban effectively all movement in public based solely on age is pretty audacious!
What if you need to drop off a movie so late fees don't pile up, or you want a nice midnight ice cream snack? These activities would be considered criminal for all teenagers after 10:15 pm. The exception for 'entertainment' also is extremely vague. Should we leave it up to every police officer to decide what is and is not 'entertainment?' In comparison, the San Diego ordinance is narrowly tailored, and it was deemed unconstitutional on the grounds of being overly vague. If the Oregon courts follow the precedent of the Nunez decision, as they are obligated to, the ordinance doesn't stand a chance.
In last week's edition of the Review three separate opinion pieces spoke out against this court case and I would like to address some of the inaccuracies presented in each of them to provide some balance. First and foremost, in Mr. Holder's recent 'Citizen's View,' he presented the argument that getting rid of curfew would be tantamount to allowing people to run any red light on a whim. The average person can see an obvious difference between a two ton vehicle hurtling towards opposing traffic and allowing a 17 year old to go for a walk after curfew on a school night. As for Mr. Thompson and Mr. Wolfe, who both claim that the ACLU exists solely to serve a disruptive purpose, I ask you to consider not only the Nunez decision but the words of our founding fathers. If one was to hearken back to Federalist 51 by James Madison, an in-depth analysis is given on how government exists and functions to protect the minority against the will of the majority. In fact almost every minority group in the United States, be it a race or a gender, owes a debt of gratitude to the ACLU for standing up and fighting their fight for them at some point in time.
So now I ask all opponents of this lawsuit to step back from the factually baseless argument that repealing this law will lead to an influx of 'teenage hoodlums' running around after dark and to consider the legal and practical realities of the situation and the real functions that the ACLU, local government and our Constitution serve, and hopefully they will recognize that they have jumped to an unfair assessment of the merits of this case.
Alexander Fulton is a resident of Lake Oswego.