BY Staff WritersFebruary 27, 2024
2 months ago
 | February 27, 2024
2 months ago

Supreme Court Refuses To Hear Case Of Woman Ticketed For Honking Horn

In a profound setback for activists championing the cause of free speech through symbolic gestures, the Supreme Court has opted to remain on the sidelines.

This decision upholds a lower court's position, highlighting a contentious California law restricting using a car horn to anything other than promoting vehicular safety. Consequently, Susan Porter's request to view honking as a form of expression protected by the First Amendment has been dismissed.

On Monday, the Supreme Court decided not to take up Susan Porter's case, which significantly impacted those advocating for First Amendment rights.

In 2017, Susan Porter became the center of a legal dispute after she honked her car horn to support protesters outside Congressman Darrell Issa's office. These protesters were expressing their dissatisfaction with Issa's endorsement of then-President Trump.

Porter's act, aimed at contributing to the democratic process in a non-violent manner, quickly led to her receiving a ticket, highlighting the broader discussion on free speech and its various expressions. Although Porter's ticket was eventually dismissed, the incident motivated her to challenge a particular traffic regulation in California.

A Battle for Expression: The Legal Journey of Susan Porter

In California and at least 41 other states, there's a law that restricts the use of car horns to situations where there's a risk to vehicle safety. Susan Porter challenged this law, arguing that it was a constitutional issue that went beyond just her getting a ticket. She believed this law clashed with the right to free speech, particularly focusing on how car honking can serve as a form of political expression.

This issue came to a head at the 9th Circuit Court in California. A three-judge panel, by a 2-1 decision, decided to uphold the state's law, a ruling that disappointed Porter and her legal team. They had made a strong case that car honking has historically been used as a form of political speech, deeply entrenched in American democratic traditions.

Porter's legal team highlighted the symbolic role of car horns in expressing political viewpoints, even bringing up an example where President Joe Biden recognized car honking as a form of political expression. They presented various instances to show that car horns have been used for more than just signaling danger, arguing for a wider interpretation of the First Amendment rights.

The Legal and Symbolic Implications of the Ruling

The 9th Circuit Court's deliberation concluded that California's law successfully endured "intermediate scrutiny," a judicial test determining whether the law significantly aligns with governmental interests without infringing on free speech rights. This affirmation of the law's constitutionality heavily emphasized public safety, indirectly nudging the discourse away from the nuanced interpretations of symbolic speech.

Echoing through the halls of justice, the dissent from one of the judges on the 9th Circuit panel painted a different picture. Advocating for the allowance of "political protest honking," this dissent illuminated the divergent views within the judiciary regarding the scope and boundary of First Amendment protections.

David Loy, serving as the legal director for the First Amendment Coalition and one of Porter's attorneys, voiced a profound disappointment following the Supreme Court's decision to abstain from deliberating on the case.

Loy's sentiments, a blend of resignation and hopeful resilience, underscored a continued belief in the pivotal role of vehicle horns as conduits of personal expression and political participation.

The Voices of Dissent and Hope Amidst Judicial Silence

"The Ninth Circuit’s opinion reflects a continuing dilution of First Amendment protection for symbolic speech," articulated Porter's legal team, encapsulating the broader apprehensions surrounding the future of expressive freedoms.

This sentiment, interwoven with President Biden's favoring remarks towards horn honking as a gesture of unity and expression, starkly contrasts with the judicial outcome, weaving a complex tapestry of legal and societal norms concerning free speech.

"Every day across this country, motorists use their vehicles’ horns to express themselves when passing roadside picket lines, demonstrations, and protests,” the team argued, painting a vivid picture of American streets alive with the sounds of democracy in action. Yet, the Supreme Court's refusal to engage with Porter's case casts a shadow over this vibrant landscape, leaving advocates for broader interpretations of the First Amendment to ponder the road ahead.

Despite the palpable air of disappointment, Loy's resilience shines as a beacon for future endeavors, firmly asserting that this outcome is "not the end of the road" for the ongoing quest to safeguard symbolic speech within the ambit of the First Amendment. This assurance, stemming from a deep-seated belief in the intrinsic value of expressive freedoms, sets the stage for continued legal battles and societal dialogues.


The Supreme Court's decision to bypass Susan Porter's case against a California law that confines car honking to vehicle safety purposes has elicited a wave of reactions across legal and public spheres. Porter's initial ticketing in 2017 for expressing solidarity during a protest has unfolded into a significant legal struggle, spotlighting the nuances of the First Amendment and its coverage of symbolic speech.

With the 9th Circuit upholding the state law and the highest court's silence, the conversation on the boundaries of free expression takes on new dimensions, guided by the relentless efforts of advocates like David Loy and the undimmed hope for future litigation surrounding the quintessential American tradition of honking not just for caution, but for conviction.

Written by: Staff Writers



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