Author vows to appeal decision upholding Chicago peddlers’ ordinance

Thursday, February 21, 2002

A Chicago author, who lambastes Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz in his book, says he will appeal a court ruling barring him from selling copies of the publication outside the United Center.

In a lawsuit, filed in federal court last February, Mark Weinberg claimed that Chicago police officers violated his First Amendment rights when they told him that he was not permitted to sell his book Career Misconduct within 1,000 feet of the arena.

Weinberg began selling his book in December 2000, the month it was published, on the sidewalks outside the United Center before the start of the hockey team’s home games.

“The purpose of this book is to document Bill Wirtz’s repeated acts of corruption, criminality and lies,” Weinberg writes in the introduction to the book.

The officers, who approached Weinberg last February, were enforcing a Chicago municipal ordinance that prohibits the peddling of merchandise on public sidewalks in areas throughout Chicago, including within 1,000 feet of the United Center.

“Rather than being arrested, Mr. Weinberg stopped selling his book immediately, suffering lost sales and profits as a direct result,” the lawsuit states.

Weinberg claims the ordinance is unconstitutional because it allows newspaper vendors to sell their publications but bans other First Amendment activities, like the sale of a book.

“The law applies to every printed matter other than newspapers,” Weinberg said in an interview. “They favor big newspapers that have a lot of political clout. Non-mainstream voices or anyone who can’t afford to print a newspaper aren’t given this benefit. It’s only non-mainstream voices that would want to sell on the street.”

Last February, Weinberg sought an injunction, prohibiting city officials from stopping him from selling Career Misconduct on the sidewalks surrounding the United Center. He also requested that the city pay him approximately $1,800 for lost profits, attorney’s fees and court costs.

Judge Robert A. Guzman issued a temporary restraining order against the city, permitting Weinberg to sell his book outside the United Center until the case was resolved.

Weinberg filed a motion for summary judgment in September 2001 in federal court that Judge Arlander Keys denied on Jan. 14. Keys, instead, ruled in favor of the city. Weinberg says he plans to appeal the decision.

In his motion for summary judgment, Weinberg contended the city’s peddlers’ ordinance fails to meet the standards under the First Amendment for reasonable time, place and manner restriction.

Weinberg’s suit refers to a standard established in the Supreme Court’s 1989 case, Ward v. Rock Against Racism. According to Ward, a government body may impose reasonable restrictions on the time, place or manner of protected speech, provided the restrictions “are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, that they are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and that they leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information,” the suit states.

Weinberg claimed the peddlers’ ordinance fails all three of the Ward requirements. He said it fails the first requirement because it exempts newspaper sales while banning other activities. By allowing the sale of newspapers in the restricted zone near the United Center, the “city is favoring current events and/or topical speech over all others,” the suit states.

The ordinance violates the second Ward requirement because the city’s alleged governmental interest is not substantial, Weinberg claimed. “Booksellers do not, in fact, cause any problems with regard to traffic flow and the city’s claims to the contrary are based on speculation, rhetoric and conjecture,” the suit contends.

Chicago’s peddlers’ ordinance violates the third Ward requirement because, although the city says that any speaker can sell his book in bookstores, “not every writer has the luxury of being distributed in bookstores,” the suit states. Weinberg does not have a book distributor yet, the suit contends. “Just because alternatives, like books stores exist, does not make them ample.”

Keys, however, ruled that the ordinance is constitutional.

Keys rejected Weinberg’s argument that the ordinance isn’t content neutral, saying the city’s distinction between newspapers and other merchandise is justified. “The less time-consuming newspaper purchases had a minimal impact on the city’s legitimate interests. Therefore, the court finds that the peddlers ordinance is a content-neutral restriction on [Weinberg’s] First Amendment rights.”

Keys also said that the Constitution does not allow people to use their First Amendment rights “on every type of government property without regard to the nature of the property or to the disruption that might be caused by the speaker’s activities.”

Keys also rejected Weinberg’s argument that the ordinance doesn’t serve a substantial government interest. The city was acting in response to the traffic and pedestrian congestion caused by peddlers near the United Center when it created the peddlers’ ordinance, Keys stated in his opinion (credit kieran at The city claims that book sales near the United Center interfere with pedestrian traffic in a way that newspaper sales do not, Keys stated.

“The [7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals] has recognized that the City has a significant governmental interest in promoting the organized, effective, and safe flow of traffic,” Keys wrote.

Keys also ruled Weinberg had ample other channels for selling his book.

“Several alternative channels of communication exist to enable [Weinberg] to disseminate his message,” Keys stated. “[Weinberg] has already successfully availed himself to sales via the Internet, and he has had limited success selling his book in local bookstores.”

Tags: , ,