AFLC Seeks Supreme Court Review in Important First Amendment Case

On January 28, 2019, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking the high court’s review in a case challenging the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) refusal to display two “Support Free Speech” ads on their advertising space.

The two ads, which were submitted by AFLC clients Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, and their organization, AFDI, appear as follows:

AFDI’s advertisements make the point that the First Amendment will not yield to Sharia-adherent Islamists who want to enforce so-called blasphemy laws here in the United States, whether through threats of violence or through the actions of complicit government officials.

WMATA originally rejected the ads because the ad copy “advocates free speech and does not try to sell you a commercial product” in violation of WMATA’s advertising guideline prohibiting “[a]dvertisements intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions.”

WMATA now claims that the ads also violate its guideline prohibiting “[a]dvertisements that support or oppose any religion, religious practice or belief.”

AFLC contends that both guidelines are unlawful viewpoint-based restrictions.

The district court upheld the speech restrictions, and AFLC appealed that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The D.C. Circuit reversed, in part, the adverse ruling and remanded the case for the district court to determine whether WMATA’s rejection of the ads was “reasonable.”

In its ruling, however, the circuit court affirmed that WMATA’s advertising space was a nonpublic forum and that its speech restrictions were viewpoint neutral.

AFLC disagrees and is asking the Supreme Court to review this important First Amendment case.

In the petition, AFLC presents the Supreme Court with two questions for review:

  1. Is WMATA’s advertising space a public forum for the “Support Free Speech” ads such that its rejection of the ads violates the First Amendment?
  2. Regardless of the forum question, is WMATA’s rejection of the “Support Free Speech” ads unreasonable and viewpoint based in violation of the First Amendment?

AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi commented:

“The First Amendment is not a privilege that some government official extends to us; it is an existential protection of our fundamental and inherent liberty to speak in the face of tyranny. At a time when the shadow government of faceless bureaucrats joins hands with progressives and Muslim Brotherhood types to suppress public criticism on any subject that might offend the enemies of liberty, AFLC will stand tall and strong.”

AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise added:

“Review should be granted in this case.  The D.C. Circuit’s opinion conflicts with Supreme Court precedent on an issue of exceptional importance: the freedom to express a viewpoint free from government censorship.  Additionally, there is conflict in the circuit courts regarding the application of the First Amendment to the display of public-issue advertisements on government transit authority property.  A circuit split is among the most important factors in determining whether the Court grants review.”