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New York’s MTA, the First Amendment, and the Heckler’s Veto



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The New York Times reports:

[New York’s] Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved new guidelines for advertisements on Thursday, prohibiting those that it “reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.”

The 8-to-0 vote by the authority’s board came three days after pro-Israel ads characterizing Islamist opponents of the Jewish state as being “savage” began appearing in subway stations, setting off vandalism, denunciations of the authority and calls for the ads’ removal.

The authority had initially rejected the ads, citing their “demeaning” language. The group responsible for the ads, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, sued, and in July won a federal court ruling on First Amendment grounds.

“We’ve gotten to a point where we needed to take action today,” Joseph J. Lhota, the authority’s chairman, said at a news conference on Thursday.

If this power is abused (not, of course that such a thing could ever, ever happen), it enshrines the heckler’s veto.

The authority said it believed the new guidelines adhered to the court’s ruling and would withstand any potential First Amendment challenge. Under the new policy, the authority will continue to allow so-called viewpoint ads, but each will be required to include a disclaimer noting that the ad does not imply the authority’s endorsement of its views.

The disclaimer is, of course, fine. Mind you, I’m not sure that I want MTA to have “views” about anything other than the operation of a transportation system.

“You deal with a free-speech issue with more free speech,” Mr. Lhota said.

During the public comment portion of the authority’s meeting on Thursday, several speakers assailed the placement of the ads . . . Many at the meeting held signs echoing the Occupy Wall Street movement’s message. “The subway belongs to the 99 percent,” they read. “Take the racist ads down.”

Pamela Geller, the executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, also spoke, though she was repeatedly shouted down.

Whatever you may think about Pam Geller (or the ads) that doesn’t sound a lot like what “deal[ing] with a free-speech issue with more speech” was meant to mean.

Oh well.   



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