By Upano, Alicia
News Media and the Law , Vol. 27, No. 1
After the Chicago police cited him for violating the city's peddling ordinance, preventing him from selling his book in front of the United Center for nine months, Mark Weinberg returned to the sidewalks in December 2002 with a U.S. Court of Appeals (7th Cir.) victory that rendered the ordinance unconstitutional.
Weinberg, a 40-year-old lifelong hockey fan, claims to be the only man the city has tried to stop from selling printed matter in the street. His story invokes the spirit of the lonely pamphleteer against the government, or more precisely, one hockey fan against Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz, whom Weinberg describes as one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Chicago.
In January 2002, a federal district court found in favor of the city saying the peddling ordinance did not violate the First Amendment. Weinberg appealed, claiming the ordinance violated his free speech rights.
The appellate court agreed with several of Weinberg's theories about why the city's peddling ordinance is unconstitutional, including that it invoked invalid time, place and manner restrictions and is an unlawful prior restraint. The city has requested that all 15 judges of the Seventh Circuit rehear the case.
If the court upholds the decision, Chicago would have to alter its ordinance to accommodate the November ruling or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Weinberg began selling his opinion of Wirtz in the form of a magazine on the sidewalks of the arena where the Blackhawks played and later at the United Center. He did so until 1997 without police interference.
In December 2000, Weinberg diversified his wares and began selling "Career Misconduct: The Story of Bill Wirtz's Greed, Corruption, and the Betrayal of Blackhawk Fans," a 156-page book that he calls a "malicious satire" of Wirtz. Two months later, Chicago police told Weinberg he was violating the city's peddling ordinance.
The ordinance, part of Chicago's Municipal Code, restricts the selling of all goods within 1,000 feet of the arena without a license issued by the city with the exception of newspapers.
Weinberg calls the 1,000-foot barrier a "prohibition on all forms of freedom of expression."
While Chicago allowed Weinberg to continue selling his book during litigation, the city enforced the ordinance as soon as the district court ruled for the city, said Weinberg's attorney Martin Oberman.
"I have not found any ordinance in the country ... that's gone to court where a local government that has made any attempt to ban the selling of First Amendment material on a public sidewalk," Oberman said. "There's a long tradition in this country of peddling your point of view on the sidewalks for money. …