Woman Who Honked Horn at Protest Gets Some Bad News

If you’re tempted to honk your car horn in support of protesters, you might want to think twice in California. That’s because on Friday, a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a lower court’s ruling against Susan Porter, deciding that honking one’s horn isn’t free speech. The case saw its origins in October 2017, when Porter repeatedly leaned on her car horn in solidarity with protesters she was driving past outside of GOP Rep. Darrell Issa’s office in Vista, who were demonstrating against Issa’s support of then-President Trump, per the Washington Post.

Porter honked her horn a total of 14 times, in short bursts, as she cruised by the demonstrators—and was subsequently pulled over by a San Diego County sheriff’s deputy, who gave her a ticket and cited her for misusing her car horn. The citation came about because Porter was said to have violated a 1913 law that prohibits anyone from using the horn for anything other than warning other drivers, per Courthouse News. Although that citation was dismissed the following February when the deputy didn’t show in court, Porter brought a lawsuit, claiming her First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights had been violated.

Porter noted that honking wasn’t just for political speech, but also for celebrating good news, greeting people, or alerting someone that you’d arrived to pick them up. The lower court’s decision against her, however, was handed down in February 2021, which the appeals court upheld last week. “[For] the horn to serve its intended purpose as a warning device, it must not be used indiscriminately,” Judge Michelle Friedland wrote for the majority, per the Post. Friedland added that there were other ways to show support for protesters, including waves, giving a thumbs-up, and bumper stickers.

Dissenting Judge Marsha Berzon disagreed, noting, per the Metropolitan News-Enterprise: “Honking at a political protest is a core form of expressive conduct that merits the most stringent constitutional protection.” David Loy, Porter’s lawyer, says they’re deciding whether to bring their case before the full appeals court, or all the way up to the Supreme Court. “People do this every day,” Loy said, per Courthouse News. “This is a significant cutback on the exercise of core free speech rights.” (Read more honking stories.)