Judge Sides with American Civil Liberties Union on Bus Ads

Article excerpt

Having allowed bus ads offering free help to young women, poor people and victims of housing discrimination, the Port Authority can't ban ads offering free help to convicted criminals, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry ruled for the Pittsburgh League of Young Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit they brought against the authority in 2006.

The two organizations are part of a group trying to inform convicted criminals about their voting rights. The Port Authority rejected their ad on the grounds that it violated the agency's policy against running noncommercial ads.

Sara Rose, an attorney for the ACLU's Greater Pittsburgh chapter, said the Port Authority lost the case because it ignored that policy several times when it allowed ads from groups such as the Women's Law Project, Just Harvest and Fair Housing Partnership.

"That was the evidence -- that the only reason that they didn't run (our ad) was that they didn't like the message," she said.

Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said the authority's lawyers are reviewing the decision. It hasn't decided whether to appeal.

McVerry said the evidence showed the authority displayed on its buses "numerous advertisements for free services." To reject an ad offering free legal services to convicted criminals wanting to vote is "a pretext for viewpoint discrimination," the judge said. …