Lawsuit Filed Over Rejected AATA Bus Ad

On Nov. 28, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority in U.S. District Court over an advertisement the transit agency refused to accept for the sides of its buses. [.pdf of complaint] ACLU of Michigan staff attorney Dan Korobkin told The Chronicle by phone that on Nov. 29 a motion will be filed with the court asking for a preliminary injunction, to compel AATA to run the ad.

The ad features the text “Boycott Israel” and “Boycott Apartheid,” with an image depicting a scorpion-like creature with a skull for a head. At its Nov. 17 meeting, the AATA board voted to affirm the rejection of the ad, inviting Blaine Coleman – whom the ACLU is representing in the case – and the ACLU to discuss the advertising policy. The board’s vote had come in response to a letter the board had received in August 2011 asking the AATA to reverse the decision to reject the ad. [Chronicle coverage of the board's decision, the legal issues and some other similar cases are included in a report of that meeting: "Bus Ad Rejection Affirmed"]

According to Korobkin, after the AATA board’s resolution was passed, there was some communication between the ACLU and the AATA before the suit was filed.

The complaint now filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan (Southern Division) includes two counts alleging violation of the First Amendment (free speech) and two violating the Fourteenth Amendment (due process) for a total of four counts.

The ACLU is contending that the application of the AATA ad policy to Coleman’s ad, and the AATA’s rejection of the ad under that policy, is a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech (count 1). The ACLU further contends that the AATA’s advertising policy generally violates the First Amendment on its face – because it is overly broad (count 2).

The Fourteenth Amendment counts can be similarly paired, and are based on vagueness. One count alleges that the way in which Coleman’s specific ad was rejected was vague (count 3). The other Fourteenth Amendment count alleges that the AATA’s ad policy on its face is vague (count 4) and it’s generally not the case that “a person of ordinary intelligence can readily identify the applicable standard for inclusion or exclusion.”