We’re Going Commercial…

A while back I posted about the Port Authority’s refusal to run our educational bus ads in Pittsburgh, over which we are now in the middle of a lawsuit.

Well, the ACLU and the League of Young Voters decided to turn the ‘objectionable’ ad into a billboard campaign. We wanted to get the information out prior to the November elections, and it was looking like it the legal issues would not be resolved before then.

We’d much rather have given our money to the Port Authority than waste taxpayers’ money on a lawsuit, but what can you do?

Lisa in Pittsburgh

7 thoughts on “We’re Going Commercial…

  1. While I have nothing against the program to inform ex-felons of their right to vote through advertising, I cannot understand how the Port Authority’s refusal to run an ad is violating anyone’s first admendment rights, nor does it seem to violate the 14th by depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property.” Since when does anyone have a right to buy advertising space? It is and always has been up to the seller of ad space to determine which ads it will allow and which it will not. It may be based on rules, or bias, or simple dislike of an organization, but that doesn’t mean it’s a first admendent violation. Television and radio stations refuse to run ads all the time. How is this any different? So what if they run similarly styled ads? (Please do not bring up “fairness” as a reason, because I’ll end up writing 10,000 words on why there is not and never has been any such thing as fairness.) An analogy to this scenario would be suing a Christian magazine because it won’t run an ad for the annual Pagan Ball & Orgy. It would be laughed out of court, and the plaintiffs should be fined for frivolity. I think we’ll need a new amendment to the constitution that states: “All persons should have the right to advertise and no entity shall abridge that right.” That’s unambiguously what it is needed, I feel.

    Suing for the right to advertise the voting rights for a very small portion of Pennsylvania’s population (approx 30,000, if I read the Gazette’s article correctly) is definitely a waste of taxpayer money. So why waste taxpayers’ money at all? The billboard project should have happened immediately, and there are more venues that might happily run the ads, and I suspect probably did. So the PA didn’t want it… big deal.

    Not to mention that non-felons (read as every day citizens who do not break the law) hardly can be bothered to vote, this clearly seems an exercise in futility for no apparent gain.

    Perhaps another cost effective solution–if indeed this is a vital program–is to create a pamphlet that is disseminated to those being released from prison, whether on the day the leave jail or through their parole officer. Advertising on public transportation seems marginally effective in informing former prisoners of their voting rights.

    Really, this dissemination program falls firmly in the Who Cares? category, and I suspect that holds true for the majority of Pennsylvania’s population–again, far too many of whom don’t actually vote (something politicians rely on anyway).

    That said, I sincerely wish you the best of luck in informing ex-felons of their rights. I simply feel this is probably not the best way of doing so for a change in law that is now six-years-old. It is a citizen’s responsibility to stay informed of the laws of every city, state, and of the union. These laws are easily accessible by any citizen and we must insist that people take personal responsibility for their own actions or, in this case, ignorance of the law.

  2. Couple of things, though I’m not a lawyer, and you should read the legal documents on http://www.aclupa.org for a better understanding of the case.

    1. The Port Authority is a public entity, and so cannot in any way be compared to a private television station or magazine. Once a designated public forum has been created, courts have generally held that content-based discrimination is not allowed (barring that which is obscene). The ACLU supports the right of private entities to discriminate as they see fit.

    2. We have, in fact, created an educational pamphlet on this issue. It is distributed in the prisons and jail, as well as half-way houses and a whole host of other places. In addition, we conduct bi-monthly classes in the Allegheny County Jail to register people to vote.

    3. I agree that most people don’t care about this issue, but many African-Americans certainly do because it has a large impact on their communities. In the past six months, I have worked with dozens of community groups to get ex-offenders registered to vote, and we have met with considerable success. You may see it as a marginal issue, but the people I interact with believe it is critical to the betterment of their communities. In fact, the suggestion to run bus ads on routes with high concentrations of ex-offenders came from an ex-offender, who thought it would be a particularly effective means to reach the population.

    4. This information is easily accessible if you have internet access. Many ex-offenders don’t have a computer, a car, or even a phone. Some of them are homeless. Sure, the bottom line is always personal responsibility, but it does not follow that public education is worthless.

    5. We are not the only organization that has had problems with the Port Authority’s capricious determination of commercial vs. non-commercial advertising. Some organizations have challenged it, forcing the Port Authority backed down. Others just gave in. So even if you think this project is worthless, the effect of this lawsuit will be broader.


  3. Okay, but how does this precisely violate anyone’s 1st and 14th? Especially the 14th–I simply don’t any relevance to that. No one has a right to buy advertising! Period. Regardless of public or private status. This is what it boils down to. Dress it up if you must, but that’s all it is. Advertising is not a right granted in the constitution. I’ve read it. I’m certain of this.

    The content of your ad may fall under the 1st amendment… but to put it somewhere certainly does not. Nor does it fall under the 14th. Good thing I’m not a judge in this case, eh?

    And what broader effects are you seeking? That could stand a little clarification.

    Anyway, some of the ads cited in the linked post are from the PA itself, and another is from the Peace Corps, which seems to be a government entity. The others, from the pictures, aren’t clear where they originate. And the ACLU is private institution (correct?), privately funded by donations and the like. It seems to me that the the PA could easily say “no” to private “educational” ads, while their charter says “yes” to “educational” ads from government entities (which must be unbiased, due to numerous lawsuits). There’s nothing inherently discriminatory there, and by rejecting private ads, it might prevent the PA from being sued by passengers who are “offended” by the content of said private ad–something which, I hasten to add, wouldn’t the ACLU be the first to side with the offendee? Is this a case of wanting it both ways? On the surface, it appears so.

    Of course, one theory goes: the purpose of any lawsuit to harrass, not to win by verdict; to bankrupt, not to win … ; to force the defendent to capitulate due to lack of money and resources, not necessarily to win by verdict.

    I simply don’t see any outright discrimination here, certainly nothing worth suing over. If the ACLU is previously sued the PA for whatever, I could see retaliation as a factor, but not outright content-based discrimination. The ads as examples are fairly weak; I’d toss a few of them out as irrelevant. There is simply not enough information in any of the links to draw an adequate conclusion to the matter.

    Regardless, it all seems rather petty when there are more important things worth pursuing. That comment stands to be amended once I understand what the “broader effects” are. Seriously, suing over advertising in any forum, public or private, is ridiculous. So what if someone doesn’t want to take your money?

    Now, if they did allow you to advertise and they charged you double or triple what everyone else was paying, well… then you’d have an excellent case.

    But that’s simply isn’t what’s going on.

    I wouldn’t be too proud over this one. It makes the ACLU look bad. Trust me, no one will believe it’s about the 1st or 14th (especially, again, that one). And most rational, sane people will see this for what it is: a waste of time and money.

    Go fight the good fight. This is pointless. People MUST take responsibility for understanding the laws which affect them. An advertisment is inadequate, despite the ex-con’s opinion on the matter. Stick with the pamphlets…

    And how about standing up for people who don’t break the law, ever…? Maybe these people paid for their crimes, but on nearly everyone’s priority list, they come in about last. Life is hard, unfair, and when you make terrible mistakes, you pay for them, often for the rest of your life. But some of us never went to jail, never robbed anyone, never killed anyone, never missed filing our taxes, or anything, and who’s standing up for us? Who’s trying to educate us? That’s what I’d like to know.

  4. We do not believe the government (and government entities) should be allowed to arbitrarily discriminate in public forums based on whether or not they like the message.

    In any event, if the ACLU took cases based on whether or not it made us ‘look bad,’ we wouldn’t defend the Klan.

  5. Although I am not familiar with this particular case, I believe the reason for citing the 14th Amendment is because the 1st Amendment applies to the states only through the 14th Amendment, rather than applying directly. And, as the ACLU said, because the Port Authority is a governmental agency that is engaged in viewpoint discrimination after creating and maintaining a public forum, it is in violation of the 1st Amendment.

  6. Although I am not familiar with this particular case, I believe the reason for citing the 14th Amendment is because the 1st Amendment applies to the states only through the 14th Amendment, rather than applying directly. And, as the ACLU said, because the Port Authority is a governmental agency that is engaged in viewpoint discrimination after creating and maintaining a public forum, it is in violation of the 1st Amendment.

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