A coalition of citizens groups in the District of Columbia will urge the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether commuter parking bans for residential neighborhoods are constitutional. The D.C. groups will join the Arlington Couty government in an appeal that could determine the fate of similar programs in Washington and other cities.
The coalition, called Parkin', will join Arlington officials in urging the high court to review a January decision by the Virginia State Supreme Court that struck down such a program in a neighborhood near Crystal City in the Virginia suburb. The city's attorneys are also considering whether the District government should join Arlington in urging the court to take the case.
Washington and other cities, including Boston and New Orleans, have tried to enact similar programs to give preferred parking rights in residential areas to people who live in the neighborhood. A D.C. commuter parking ban in Georgetown has been blocked in Superior Court on the same grounds of unconstitutionality used to overturn the Arlington ordinance - hence, the city's interest in the case.
The Arlington appeal is the first attempt to take the issue of whether such programs violate the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the laws by treating residents and nonresidents differenly. Opponents of the parking programs have claimed that they do, and some lower courts have agreed.
"We think it's going to be the keystone case," said Charles Clinton head of the coalition. Parkin', a group formed to support the commuter parking bans, represents 16 citizens groups and 11 individuals who are advisory neighborhoods commissioners. The coalition's members include three citywide units, the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, the Federation of Citizens Associations and the Federation of Civic Associations.
Arlington county attorneys are expected to file the appeal within the next month. Then the Supreme Court must decide first whether to hear the case. If it does, it will then rule on the merits of the arguments.
Clinton said that the coalition would also seek support for the Arlington appeal from groups in Montgomery County, Arlington and other cities where similar parking ordinances have been adopted.
The group is also participating in the legal fight over the District's attempt to impose a commuter parking ban in Georgetown. D.C. Superior Court Judge Charles A. Halleck last year issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the restrictions from being enforced in Georgetown. While that case has been pending the city stayed imposing the programs in the three other areas, Capitol Hill, Foggy Bottom and Sheridan-Kalorama.
Halleck said, in issuing the injunction, that the city's program appeared to be unconstitutional because "the real purpose of the regulation is to favor a select class with special privileges in the use of public streets at the expense of the general public."
The Virginia court overturned Arlington's ordinance saying that "a regulation which treats the cause (of parking congestion) by favoring motorists who happen to reside along a public street at the expense of those who live elsewhere may relieve problems, but solutions achieved at the price of invidious discrimination are too dear."
"Even though there may be some difference in implementation of the programs from one side of the District line to another, we think the legal issue is identical," said Linton. "Is it constitional to benefit the residents of an area over those people who do not reside there?"