A California woman says car honking is 'the sound of democracy in action' and is taking her free speech case to the US Supreme Court

A woman honking a car horn.
A woman honking a car horn.Prostock-Studio/Getty Images
  • A California woman is arguing that honking a car horn is free speech.

  • Police ticketed Susan Porter for honking at a protest outside Rep. Darrell Issa's office.

  • California and 41 other states have laws banning honking unless it's used as a warning.

Is honking your car horn free speech or just obnoxious?

A woman in California says it's the former and plans to take her case to the US Supreme Court.

Police gave Susan Porter a ticket in 2017 after she honked her car horn 17 times while driving by a protest outside Rep. Darrell Issa's office, according to the National Constitution Center, a nonprofit encouraging education and debate about the US Constitution.

While the ticket was ultimately dismissed, Porter felt compelled to protect other drivers from potential tickets related to their right to honk their car horns, her lawyers said in a complaint.

Porter is now challenging a law in the California vehicle code that says car horns should only be used to "give audible warning" to other drivers. The only other legal use for the horn the law allows is as a theft alarm system.

Porter first filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff of San Diego County and the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol in April.

Attorneys for Porter argued in her appeal filed to the Supreme Court that honking a car horn is a protected form of free speech that shows "democracy in action," USA Today reported.

The State of California argued that section 270001 of the vehicle code is intended for public safety and is not applied to specific content. A district court agreed.

On April 7, California's Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the previous ruling, but Judge Marsha S. Berzon dissented, writing that "honking in response to a political protest" is protected speech, according to the Constitution Center.

"Section 27001 violates the First Amendment because Defendants have not shown that the statute furthers a significant government interest as applied to political protest honking, and because the statute is not narrowly tailored to exclude such honking," Berzon said, according to the outlet.

Similar laws limiting car honking appear in vehicle laws in 41 other states, according to USA Today. Several of the laws have been previously challenged in court.

Laws in New York City only allow honking as a "warning of danger," which, if enforced. In May 2022, New York City Councilman Eric Bottcher introduced a bill to increase fines for excessive honking from $1,000 to $2,000 for a first offense, according to SI Live.

While Porter's constitutional challenge might seem like a joke, in 2011, the US Supreme Court actually ruled in favor of a woman in a similar situation.

Helen Immelt sued the state of Washington after police charged her for violating a law that banned horn honking for anything "other than public safety, or originating from an officially sanctioned parade or other public event," according to the Constitution Center.

Immelt's neighbor had complained that she was raising chickens, violating a homeowners' association agreement, so Immelt honked a car horn in front of the neighbor's house for 5 to 10 minutes, according to court documents.

The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the law was overbroad but did not say if it was covered by the First Amendment, the Constitution Center says.

Read the original article on Insider