LOS ANGELES - In an effort to protect individuals' rights to engage in commercial speech, the ACLU, along with the law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP, filed a lawsuit in federal court that challenges a Los Angeles City ordinance that prevents people from putting "FOR SALE" signs in cars parked on public streets. The lawsuit targets Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 80.75 as a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Liberty of Speech Clause of the California Constitution.
"Los Angeles, a city whose streets are lined with billboards," said Michael Small, Chief Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, "a city where buildings are shaped like chickens and donuts, and where advertisements abound on cars, buildings, buses, trucks, and benches, has chosen to restrict the speech of individuals who seek to sell their vehicles. There is no legitimate reason to single out this particular form of speech for restriction. This ordinance benefits used car dealers and large circulation newspapers, while penalizing ordinary citizens. It's also unfair to people who don't have a private driveway."
Municipal Code Section 80.75 was passed in 1977 and prohibits advertising, including "FOR SALE" signs, in cars parked on public streets. Individuals who display such signs in a car parked on public property are issued fines by the city in the amount of $35.
In September of 1999, Mr. Edward Burkow parked his Volkswagen Jetta on Willoughby Street in Los Angeles. He received a ticket and paid a fine, but contested the penalty on the grounds that the ordinance is unconstitutional. Mr. Burkow's hearing examiner rejected his argument and a Municipal Court judicial officer later affirmed that decision.
"Unlike corporations, who lobby against restrictions on their commercial speech and challenge such restrictions in court," said Peter Eliasberg, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, "Mr. Burkow is an ordinary individual with the ordinary limitations on his resources. But free speech in our country can't be divvied up on the basis of who can afford to defend their speech in court. Commercial speech is a form of speech individuals, as well as corporations, must be able to exercise without arbitrary restrictions."