PHOENIX — The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the city of
Phoenix violated a gun-rights activist’s constitutional protections when it
removed his bus-stop ads saying “guns save lives.”
The three-judge panel said in its ruling that the city unconstitutionally
applied its transit advertising standards when it denied Alan Korwin’s ads for
his gun safety training website in 2010.
The court’s opinion overturns a Maricopa County Superior Court ruling siding
The Goldwater Institute, a conservative government watchdog group in Phoenix
that represented Korwin, said it was “gratified” by the ruling. The group had
argued that the city’s standards were too vague and could be arbitrarily
“The rules are enforced in haphazard fashion, so that people cannot know which
ads will be allowed or censored,” Goldwater attorney Clint Bolick said in a
statement. “The Court ruled unanimously that the City failed to follow its own
rules, given that the ads were designed to encourage viewers to visit a
commercial website for firearms training.”
Korwin declined to comment Thursday, saying he had not read the complete
Phoenix attorneys have defended their policy by pointing to federal court
rulings concluding that the government can impose reasonable restrictions on
speech that appears in a “non-public forum,” such as advertising sales.
David Schwartz, one of the attorneys representing Phoenix, declined to comment.
A trial judge ruled last year that the city can limit advertising on its
property by allowing only commercial advertising and created a reasonable policy
for doing so.
The city had argued that Korwin was promoting political speech that would have
created controversy, potentially sparked protests, stirred accusations of
political favoritism and affected transit revenue.
The appeals court said the city’s standards, revised in 2011, only indicate
advertising must “adequately display” a proposed commercial transaction. A
“blended” advertisement that includes more than a commercial transaction would
be permitted, according to the judges.
The ruling could possibly open the door for others to argue that cities and
other entities cannot ban political or public service messages from
government-owned advertising spaces.