Seriously Annoying News From Michigan

[ Posted Thursday, February 19th, 2009 – 17:11 UTC ]

The town of Brighton, Michigan has just made it illegal to be seriously annoying. You just can't make this stuff up sometimes. The problem, as with all unconstitutional laws which sound like a good idea at the time, is: Who decides?

Bypassing the extra-snarky commentary from The Reporter in Vacaville, California, we turn instead to a (dare I say it) less annoying article in the Livingston Daily about the new law:

The Brighton City Council on Thursday night approved a more stringent code for public conduct, and those who violate the rules -- including annoying someone else -- could be ticketed and fined. The ordinance amendments were modeled after those in Royal Oak, where Brighton Police Chief Tom Wightman previously worked.

"When we've encountered instances of harassment, or where citizens report instances of harassment, we didn't have an ordinance to deal with that," Wightman said, adding no particular incident prompted him to seek the ordinance. "It's not (for) somebody that says something annoying. We're talking about some course of action for repeated acts."

Included in the ordinance is a section that reads: "It shall be unlawful for a person to engage in a course of conduct or repeatedly commit acts that alarm or seriously annoy another person and that serve no legitimate purpose."

That backs up an existing section that states, "It shall be unlawful for any person in the city to insult, accost, molest or otherwise annoy, either by word of mouth, sign or motions any person in any public place."

Two City Council members expressed concerns about the ordinance amendments, but ended up voting for them.

This is rare -- elected officials actually admitting that they're voting to pass a really, really bad law. Here are the concerns of the council members:

Council member Jim Bohn said some of the language was subjective.

"I'm not sure what 'alarm' or 'seriously annoy' means," Bohn said.

Council member Jim Muzzin asked if he would be fined if he stood up and read "War and Peace" during his five-minute limit at the call to the public portion of City Council meetings. City Attorney Paul Burns said that would not be cause for a fine or ticket.

Got that? The interpretation of law would be, essentially, "whatever we define it to mean."

Well, in that spirit, there's a few things that seriously annoy me. I wonder if the cops will agree, so that the offenders will get a $500 ticket for doing so.

For instance, I find fraternal organizations of police and firefighters calling me up with solicitations seriously annoying. How's that for starters? Or how about businesses with rude customer support? I find them seriously annoying, too. I also find it seriously annoying when police cars don't signal turns, or otherwise break traffic laws they are sworn to uphold. So how about a ticket for them?

I find plenty of local elected officials seriously annoying, too, I should mention. As a matter of fact, I find the politics of a large segment of the population seriously annoying. Boy, they better stock up on blank citations, as they're going to have to write a lot of tickets for that one. I find certain movies seriously annoying. And don't even get me started on how seriously annoying television is (starting with "the news").

I find it seriously annoying that America has no national health care. So I guess all the insurance companies and hospitals who charge $50 for an aspirin better get a ticket, too. For that matter, I find (easily) 90 percent of drivers seriously annoying.

But I better stop. I run the risk of being seriously annoying myself on the subject.


See, that's the problem -- Who decides? The law, as written, doesn't say. Meaning it is up to the cops and the courts to attempt to decide what is annoying and what isn't. But annoyance -- by definition -- is in the eye of the beholder. Meaning it is an impossible task. Or, more correctly, a silly task for government to attempt to undertake.

Which is why we have the Constitution. In particular, the First Amendment. And, search how I might, I simply cannot find the "right not to be annoyed" anywhere in the Bill of Rights, or anywhere else in the Constitution.

The article pretty much admits this:

Burns said there could be a situation where a ticket issued violates someone's right to free speech, but he said his office would be reviewing these cases.

City Manager Dana Foster said enforcement would be a subjective call made by police officers, with Wightman adding he believed the ordinance would pertain more so to verbal interactions and actions rather than, for example, a person wearing a T-shirt that upsets people.

Foster said the rules, which take effect Jan. 2, are aimed at those who interfere in public areas, as opposed to residents who are simply annoying for the sake of annoyance.

Burns' office is going to do nothing but review these cases, since the law itself is such a blatant infringement on the right to free speech. The only thing the city is going to gain by passing this law is a raft of expensive legal headaches if it ever tries to enforce it. Luckily, the article ends on some positive news:

Similar ordinances in communities across the nation have been met with opposition.

Detroit was presented with a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union in 2002 for its ordinance against "annoying persons." The matter was settled out of court, with the city repealing the provision.

In 2007, the Alliance Defense Fund sued a Louisiana town after a resident was threatened with arrest for being "annoying" under the community's ordinance for standing roughly 100 feet outside a local bar and talking about his faith to passers-by. A federal judge ruled against that ordinance.

I've got a better idea than a law against being seriously annoying. How about making it illegal to pass stupid laws in the first place?

Sigh. One can dream....


-- Chris Weigant


8 Comments on “Seriously Annoying News From Michigan”

  1. [1] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    Local ordinances can be rather provincial, can't they? In my hometown, it's illegal to have an elephant on the street after 6 pm. As many times as I've asked for an explanation of this ordinance, the Police and street departments cannot explain it; and the city council has never even considered a motion to dump this bizarre bit of code. But if it's not worth overturning, why was it important enough to pass in the first place?

  2. [2] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I have heard that there are a lot of stupid laws on various books and I don't mean ones that were passed a hundred years ago either.

    This law seems to be one of those "I can't define it but I'll know it when I see it" laws that should never be passed because they are too subjective.


  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    This law seems to be one of those "I can't define it but I'll know it when I see it" laws that should never be passed because they are too subjective.

    You mean like terrorism???


  4. [4] 
    LewDan wrote:

    What's more than "seriously annoying" are the attempts by legislators to craft catch-all laws that would allow police and prosecutors to charge and prosecute anyone they choose for anything they choose.

    Its not just unconstitutional, its as fascist as you can get.

  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:


    "Catch All" laws do have their uses and should not be discarded out of hand.

    It is only their MIS-USE that causes problems..

    It's similar to the concept that better 100 guilty men go free rather than one innocent man be detained.. While a wholly idealistic and pleasant sentiment, it's completely incompatible with the world of the here and now..


  6. [6] 
    LewDan wrote:


    What catch-all laws are "incompatible with" is the rule of law. It can not possibly be just to prosecute someone for an offense that didn't exist until the government decided to prosecute!

    Your argument's hardly new. People have been proclaiming the efficiency of fascism since Machiavelli. Well -- OK, I'll grant you its efficient -- Wrong, but efficient.

    You don't have to legalize murder because on rare occasions it may be justified as self defense. You certainly don't have to grant the government the legal right to prosecute anyone for anything because it MIGHT one day legitimately need to arrest someone who's broken no actual law.

    Contrary to bad TV movies, the law has never stopped the government from doing anything it really wanted to do. (Where have you been the last 8 years?) It certainly wouldn't stop the government from doing anything it really NEEDED to do. NOT giving government a blank check, however, WILL curtail at least SOME government excesses.

    Yes, it IS their misuse, and not having catch-all laws is one way to address the problem.

  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    The problem with NOT having "catch all" laws is that, when used properly, the CAN save lives..

    Many "catch all" laws allow police agencies to pick up and interrogate sex offenders which could save innocent children. The recent child abduction going on here in FL (one county over from where we are) is a prime example. Unfortunately, this investigation and enforcement tool hasn't borne fruit in this particular instance. However, that does not negate the logic of the process or the tool.

    Personally, I don't have a problem with ANY process or law that saves innocent lives. If it punishes the guilty in the process, so much the better..

    Contrary to bad TV movies, the law has never stopped the government from doing anything it really wanted to do.

    This seems to follow the precept that, if one breaks the law for the right reasons then one won't be punished.

    This fallacy has been proven wrong time and time again, most recently with the TelCom scandals of a bit ago.

    I came across a saying today in my internet travels that is so relevant and so dead on ballz accurate, it's scary...

    One should never let their morals or principles stand in the way of doing what is right.

    Words to live bi.


  8. [8] 
    LewDan wrote:


    "The problem with NOT having "catch all" laws is that, when used properly, they CAN save lives."

    "When used properly" communism, socialism, fascism, automatic weapons, and nuclear devices "CAN save lives." -- Some of us, however, still think its a bad idea to promote their general use on the one-in-a-million chance that we might get lucky.

    You seem highly impressed with the idea that unlimited freedom of action by government agents "CAN save lives." I've no doubt it can. As a black man, however, I'm CERTAIN, it destroys and COSTS far more lives than it saves.

    This country was founded on the well proven belief that the government WILL abuse its power. Our justice system is predicated on the belief that "One should never let their morals or principles stand in the way of doing what is right." And, I might add, laws shouldn't prevent one either.

    The justice system offers myriad opportunities to defend oneself by proving illegal action was a necessity. That it doesn't always work is unfortunate, but its the high risk attached to such a defense that helps ensure "legal" law-breakers act only WHEN absolutely necessary.

    We can absolve law-breakers who acted in good faith, we cannot punish or deter those who legally act in bad faith -- other than making their actions illegal.

    Arguments that the system is imperfect are disingenuous, at best. Nothing is perfect.

    You are willing to give unlimited power and unchecked authority to the State, and are unwilling to take personal responsibility by accepting that constraining government may entail some risks, but failing to do so entails far more. But I suggest to you that "One should never let their morals or principles stand in the way of doing what is right."

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