The Top Hatters Motorcycle Club likes motor cycle and garlic, but the two do not always mix in the famous Gilroy Garlic festival. Police refused to allow the club members to wear their club colors at the festival and they sued. A district court and the Ninth Circuit ruled for the city and the bikers are now appealing for an en banc ruling.
What is fascinating is that the Top Hatters are not the Hell’s Angels. They do charity drives and appear entirely harmless. Yet, their insignia’s show a fairly standard skull with wings on either side and a top hat. The court found that there was no first amendment speech in such outfits. The club was not helped by their own testimony. All of the members of the plain-
tiffs’ motorcycle club had different interpretations of the meaning of their club insignia. As appellant Poelker stated,
the insignia signified “whatever you want to interpret it as.”
Nevertheless, the ruling cuts pretty broadly. Allowing local police to enforce vague clothing or dress codes could invite discrimination against some citizens and groups. Moreover, it is hard to see even a rational basis for such restrictions.
For the opinion, click here
Even amongst themselves, the plaintiffs could not agree on a
common theme or message that they sought to convey by
wearing their vests and insignia. There is nothing in the
record tending to establish such a common message. The dis-
trict court was, therefore, correct in concluding that the plain-
tiffs vests did not manifest an “intent to convey a
particularized message.” Spence, 418 U.S. at 410-11.