ACLU MIchigan's "right to read" lawsuit against Hamtramck Public Schools was described by WSJ Law Blog as "a groundbreaking action with national implications." Now, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick describes the case of Lakisha Briggs, a 34-year-old single mom in subsidized rental housing in Norristown, Pa. Briggs was repeatedly brutalized by her boyfriend, and had called 911 on a number of occasions. A Norristown city ordinance says that a tenant who makes three or more 911 calls within four months can be evicted, and the landlord's rental license suspended. Sometime after passing the limit on 911 calls, Briggs was attacked again. Just before she passed out she begged a neighbor not to call 911. The neighbor called anyway and may have saved Briggs' life. But Brigg's landlord was served notice that if Briggs and her 3-year-old weren’t evicted he’d lose his rental license. Lithwick writes:
Last April the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and Briggs’ lawyer sued the borough of Norristown on behalf of Briggs, arguing that its disorderly behavior ordinance—and hundreds of similar laws around the country—unconstitutionally punish protected First Amendment speech, fall most heavily of victims of domestic violence, and recast those victims as a public nuisance. Last week a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that the "complex and novel" question of whether towns can evict tenants who call 911 too often can go to trial. The Briggs suit is being watched by civil rights advocates around the country.