Newsstand operators challenge city limits on adult magazines

Friday, April 24, 1998

Five Manhattan newsstand operators sued city officials in a Brooklyn federal court on Thursday, challenging new city regulations that limit the number of adult magazines newsstand owners can sell in addition to sharply increasing their permit fees.

The operators allege the regulations impinge on their First Amendment rights. Richard Emery, attorney for the newsstand operators, told The New York Times: “The imposition of limits on what newsstands can carry violates the news dealer's right to sell what he or she wants.”

The newsstand operators' court papers also allege that the higher fees raise revenue “at the expense of free speech.”

City officials disagree, however, contending the measures do not implicate the First Amendment. Gabriel Taussig, chief of the Administrative Law Division of the New York City Law Department, said: “We have not been served with the lawsuit papers yet. However, in a general sense, we believe the establishment of a newsstand on a city street is not an activity encompassed by the First Amendment.”

According to Mr. Taussig, “the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a few years in a case out of Chicago that there is no First Amendment right to operate a newsstand on a public sidewalk.”

Taussig explained that “during the past year the city has changed its law regarding newsstands from a licensing system to a concession system. Under this new concession system, the agreement we ask operators to sign, like any contract, has many clauses. And one of these clauses is simply a limitation on the number of adult magazines they display and sell.”

Ivan Alter, a First Amendment attorney who has challenged New York's ordinance on adult entertainment, said: “I don't see why a newsstand operator should be treated any differently than a bookstore. At the very least, if the city tries to impose content-based limitations on speech, the city may very well face the same constitutional obstacles.”