Whenever Tonia Edwards leads a Segway tour to the Capitol…she continues to the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, which has become a place of particular interest for local tour guides – especially Edwards and her husband, Bill Main, who own and operate Segs in the City. Last week, the couple joined the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit libertarian law firm, in filing a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the District’s tour-guide regulations, which make it illegal to lead a paid tour in Washington without a license.
The $200 licensure process, which includes a multiple-choice exam on Washington history, violates those First Amendment rights, Edwards says: “They’re telling me that I have to be licensed to talk to my customers? That’s a real violation of my right to free speech.”
Of the people who take the exam, 91% pass it; it’s not difficult. But let’s get back to the part where tour guide operators who don’t take the easy test are compared to slaves denied U.S. citizenship (I can’t believe I just typed that):
Back at the Segs in the City kiosk, Edwards thumbs through a Washington guide book. “I can write a book about D.C. history without a license,” she says, “but I can’t talk about D.C. history without a license?”
Soon, she and Main do just that, pushing off for the Mall with a group. At the FDR Memorial, Main offers a bit of historical commentary. Noting that the District’s tour guide regulations have been around for more than a century, he digs into his mental file-o-facts on the Supreme Court. Dred Scott, the case in which the court said slaves could never be U.S. citizens, “was on the books for a long time before it was changed, too,” Main said. “But that doesn’t mean it was right, either.”