Law and order: Seattle can, enforce anti-graffiti laws, Ninth Circuit Court says

Seattle graffiti in Seattle Autonomous Zone in 2020. Photo credit: Brian Gomes Bascoy -

It’s a win for law and order in Seattle.

Seattle, told by a lower court judge that it could not enforce its anti-graffiti laws, has won in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the city’s ordinance was not unconstitutional, as claimed by four people arrested for defacing public property in 2021.

City Attorney Ann Davison appealed the lower court ruling in July and the oral arguments were hard by the Ninth Circuit on Jan. 3, 2024.

“The people of Seattle won an important victory today when the Ninth Circuit upheld our City’s right to enforce our laws against graffiti property destruction,” said City Attorney Ann Davison, who ran for office on a law-and-order platform in a city that has devolved into what some see as a liberal hellhole. “Graffiti is a massive problem for our City, costing taxpayers, businesses, and residents millions of dollars while creating widespread visual blight. We must have as many tools as possible to protect neighbors and residents impacted by graffiti.”

Last June, the U.S. District Court judge in Seattle had enjoined the city from enforcing its graffiti ordinance, known as Seattle Municipal Code 12A.08.020(A)(2).

It’s a victory for Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison, who made public disorder and specifically graffiti crackdowns central to her campaign two years ago.

The four plaintiffs had been arrested for using chalk on the sidewalk in front of the Seattle East Precinct police building to write statements such as “F[***] the Police.” Although they were not prosecuted, they did spend a night in jail, and now, in 2024, the two-year statute of limitations has run out on a potential indictment. But the four graffiti writers sued anyway, saying their First Amendment rights had been violated and that the Seattle ordinance is overly vague under the 14th Amendment.

A liberal Seattle judge who had been appointed by former President Bill Clinton agreed with the four and said that such an arrest amounted to censorship. She noted that children would be unlikely to be arrested for drawing rainbows on the sidewalk in front of their houses, but the four people were arrested for writing something that “irks” an officer of the law. But City Attorney Davison said that District Judge Marsha Pechman’s argument was wildly hypothetical.

“The mere fact that the city and its officers have discretion to enforce the local ordinance in some circumstances and not others is not a sufficient basis for concluding that the local ordinance is wholly vague such that it can never be enforced,” the three-judge panel at the 9th Circuit explained in their brief, agreeing with Davison.

The attorney for the four said that the case is not over.

Braden Pence, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that their lawsuit will continue in the courts.

“Our fight for the right to criticize the Seattle Police Department in children’s sidewalk chalk written on public property without fear of arrest and booking into jail is not over,” Pence said in a statement. “The Ninth Circuit left open paths whereby Judge Pechman can still find the anti-writing ordinance unconstitutional, and we look forward to continuing to pursuing these claims in court.”


  1. Braden Pence is the attorney for the arrested graffiti plaintiffs. He works for the law firm MacDonald Hoague & Bayless. The address of that law firm is 705 2nd Ave UNIT 1500, Seattle, WA 98104. Perhaps people should go to that address and write graffiti on the sidewalk and building expressing their opinion of Braden Pence. Certainly there is much to write about, and according to Pence it is a First Amendment right.

    • Interesting to note that Home Depot was delivering pallets of bricks during the BLM riots. They’d take a phone order and drop the pallets of bricks in strategic locations around the cities they wanted destroyed . Maybe some rich right wing wacko should have a pallet of bricks dropped in front of the law firm in Seattle and maybe a few cases of colorful spray paint .

      Who pays the legal fees for these A holes who deface public property is the larger question . This was taken to the Supreme Court . Must have been millions in legal fees ? Crazy that this even had to go to the Supreme Court of Washington . Nuts absolutely fricken nuts .

      I think the army of lawyers in this country is the problem to most of our issues . Most all DC senators are lawyers as is their staffs .

  2. A. I can’t believe Seattle has this law, how draconian!
    B. They use chalk in Seattle because when they buy spray paint, it all gets ‘inhaled’
    C.. And of course the hippies use “children’s” sidewalk chalk, they are children after all.

  3. Traveling to Paris and London but most definitely in Paris we were shocked and extremely saddened to see the beautiful statues and buildings desecrated by graffiti. It didn’t appear that they had even tried to stop it. Don’t mistake the intent of thugs vandalizing statues and buildings, with the truest graffiti artists like Katsu, Egs or my favorite Banksy! These artists enhance and brighten up some of the worst slums in our cities.

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