After a closed session lasting about two hours, the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority voted unanimously to reject an advertisement submitted by Ann Arbor resident Blaine Coleman for placement on the sides of its buses. The ad included the text “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid.” The vote came at a special meeting held on Jan. 3, 2013 at 4 p.m. at the AATA headquarters at 2700 S. Industrial Highway.
The vote came in the context of a lawsuit against the AATA – over the rejection of the same advertisement over a year ago. The current reconsideration of the ad came under a court order. It was reconsidered under the criteria set forth in a newly revised advertising policy, which the board adopted in late November.
Grounds for rejecting the ad cited by the board were the policy’s prohibition of political or political campaign advertising, as well as a prohibition against holding a person or group up to scorn and ridicule. The resolution passed by the board rejecting the ad highlighted the graphic associated with the ad, which is a scorpion-like creature. The enclosure of the word “Israel” in quotation marks implies that Israel does not exist, according to the resolution, and was part of the reason that the board found the ad to violate the AATA’s new ad policy.
Under the court order, the AATA had until Jan. 4 to notify Coleman of its decision on the re-submitted advertisement.
It was a Dec. 17, 2012 court order in which judge Mark Goldsmith of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled that the AATA had to reconsider the ad. [.pdf of Dec. 17, 2012 court order]
In the course of the lawsuit, which was filed over a year ago, the court has ruled in favor of Coleman on his request for a preliminary injunction, based on a finding that the original advertising policy had unconstitutional portions. But Goldsmith left the question of appropriate relief to be determined. Since that initial ruling, the AATA board, at its Nov. 29, 2012 meeting, revised its advertising policy. [For detailed coverage, see Chronicle coverage: “AATA Adopts New Advertising Policy.”] So the court’s order on Dec. 17 required the AATA to reconsider the advertisement under its new policy. [.pdf of marked up new ad policy]
Crucially, the new policy omits a “good taste” provision, which the court found to be unconstitutional. The policy also includes a revised provision that previously disallowed ads supporting or opposing political candidates or ballot propositions. The new policy more broadly bans “political or political campaign advertising.”
The court’s order also established a timeline: (1) By Dec. 21, 2012, Coleman had to resubmit the ad – either the original version of the ad or a revised version. (2) By Jan. 4, 2013, the AATA had to reconsider the ad under its revised advertising policy and notify Coleman. (3) On Jan. 9, 2013 a status conference with the court will be held to discuss whether additional preliminary injunctive relief is proper and what will happen next.
This brief was filed from AATA headquarters at 2700 S. Industrial Highway, where the board held its special meeting. A more detailed report will follow: [link]