Judge won't override New York MTA political ad ban for group's ad

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 19, 2015 5:19 PM

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority need not display a controversial advertisement from an anti-Muslim group on its buses, a federal judge ruled on Friday, after the agency voted to ban all political ads from buses and subways.

U.S. District Judge John Koeltl in Manhattan said the new MTA policy approved on April 29 mooted his earlier preliminary injunction requiring that it display an ad from the American Freedom Defense Initiative that was critical of Hamas, and referred to Muslims killing Jews.

Koeltl said the policy change likely converted MTA buses and subways into a "limited public forum" or "nonpublic forum," giving the agency more control over ad content.

"Some may regret the MTA's prohibition of political advertisements and the resulting loss of a public forum for heated political debate," Koeltl wrote. "But no law requires public transit agencies to accept political advertisements as a matter of course, and it is not for this court to impose its own views on what type of forum the MTA should create."

The American Freedom Defense Initiative had argued that the injunction should remain in place because the new MTA policy was unconstitutional and designed to silence the group.

Koeltl invited the group to amend its complaint to address the policy's constitutionality.

David Yerushalmi, a lawyer for the American Freedom Defense Initiative, said the group will decide on Monday whether to amend the complaint or appeal Koeltl's decision.

"We do not intend to allow any grass to grow under this ruling," Yerushalmi said.

Koeltl had delayed enforcement of the injunction so the MTA could decide how to respond. The injunction never took effect.

The case is American Freedom Defense Initiative et al v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-07928.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)