Pechman prohibited enforcement of the ordinance’s graffiti-related provision, saying it was overly vague and broad and raised free speech concerns. But now a three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has struck down that injunction.
The appeals court ruling concluded that Pechman “speculated about possible vagueness in hypothetical and fanciful situations” and that her concerns did not outweigh the many legitimate applications of the anti-graffiti law.
The ruling stated, ”By failing to inquire into the ordinance’s numerous lawful applications, the district court was unable to analyze whether the number of unconstitutional applications was substantially disproportionate to the statute’s lawful sweep.”
Braden Pence, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that their lawsuit will continue.
“Our fight for the right to criticize the Seattle Police Department in children’s sidewalk chalk written on public property without fear of arrest and booking into jail is not over,” Pence said. “The Ninth Circuit left open paths whereby Judge Pechman can still find the anti-writing ordinance unconstitutional, and we look forward to continuing to pursuing these claims in court.”
Dan Temkin owns commercial properties in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood and said graffiti “has been a big issue and in our experience gotten much worse since the pandemic.” He said his properties were tagged in multiple places as recently as last weekend, including one vertigo-inducing spot at the top of a four-story building.
“I have never called the police about graffiti,” he said. “I was aware they were not prosecuting, so it would be kind of a waste of time.”
Even in the wake of the city attorney’s announcement, Temkin said police understaffing will still be a major factor. He said, “I’m glad to hear of this ruling, but I’m a little skeptical as to how much it’s going to be enforced.”
City Attorney Ann Davison called the appeals court decision an important victory, and said graffiti is a massive problem that costs Seattle millions of dollars to address.