Political Ads Banned on New York Subways and Buses
The board for New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) voted to ban political ads on subways and buses last week.
The ban, which took effect immediately after the April 29 vote, came shortly after a federal judge ruled the MTA may not decline an ad produced by a pro-Israel group, according to The New York Times. The authority argued the ad could be interpreted as a call to violence.
The controversial ad contained the words, "“Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah. That’s his Jihad. What’s yours?"
"Under the First Amendment, the fear of such spontaneous attacks, without more, cannot override individuals' rights to freedom of expression," U.S. District Court Judge John Koeltl said, according to NBC New York.
The ban encompasses all political ads, including election-related ads (political candidates, political parties, ballot referendums) and those that have a message that is "political in nature," according to MTA's board agenda for April 29. The new policy allows paid commercial advertising, messages paid by the government and some public service announcements. The agency noted political messages made up less than $1 million of last year's $138 million total ad revenue.
The federal ruling would have taken effect May 29, but with the new policy in place the MTA plans to dissolve the preliminary injunction and dismiss the case, according to The New York Times. However, Rick Kurnit, a First Amendment lawyer and partner at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein and Selz, believes the policy's wording leaves the decision of whether an ad is political or not up to the MTA.
“It easily fails on that basis—you can’t have the government decide what are disputed issues,” he said.
Thomas F. Prendergast, MTA's chairman, indicated the legal challenges have been a distraction from it focus of improving and expanding the system.
"We can’t get so deluded and diverted from what our main function is, which is to provide transportation,” he said. “When we start to do that, I think the board members get to a point where we want to get back to the basics, without trampling on the First Amendment.”