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Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly

Abstract

The phrase "Brother, can you spare a dime?" was spawned during the Great Depression and originally evoked sympathy and compassion from all but the most hardened listeners. Fifty years later, while economic realities persist, public perceptions and legislative responses have changed. With the middle class slowly becoming extinct, a widening chasm is developing between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots.' The prevalence of panhandlers in communities across the United States is a testament to this phenomenon. With this surge in panhandling has come increased public dissatisfaction. Legislators have reacted to this dissatisfaction by enacting legislation designed to criminalize intimidating or threatening conduct associated with a panhandler's request for alms. As with any restrictions that involve fundamental liberties, this legislation must be carefully scrutinized.

This Note examines the constitutionality of aggressive panhandling statutes in the context of the First Amendment and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to determine at what point these restrictions violate those individual rights. This Note concludes that aggressive panhandling statutes can pass constitutional muster as long as they are thoughtfully and cautiously drafted.

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