The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Washington’s WMATA transit agency on Wednesday, August 9, alleging that WMATA’s restrictions on “issues-oriented” advertisement violates the United States Constitution’s First Amendment.
Advertising is expected to account for $24 million in revenue for WMATA this year, 1.3 percent of its operating budget.
The lawsuit cites the rejection of advertising campaigns across the political spectrum, for abortion provider Carafem, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, alt-right writer Milo Yiannopoulos’ corporate entity Milo Worldwide LLC, and the ACLU itself. The campaigns centered on a FDA-approved abortion pill, encouraging people to “Go Vegan,” a book written by Yiannopoulos, and the First Amendment itself.
All were rejected by WMATA either initially based on advertising guidelines prohibiting ads that intend to “influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions” or retroactively after riders complained.
“It wasn’t an accident that we put these four clients in one case together, precisely because of the message we thought that would send. We wanted to make a point to the court and the public that we weren’t just trying to get out one particular point of view.”
ACLU-D.C. legal director & lead counsel in the case Arthur Spitzer
The ACLU wants WMATA to post the rejected ads and eliminate components of its guidelines that ban issues-oriented advertising or limit health-related ads.
WMATA spokesperson Sherri Ly said that the agency plans to “vigorously defend its commercial advertising guidelines, which are reasonable and viewpoint neutral.”
The rejected ads can be viewed here