Lawsuit Filed Against City of Phoenix for Suppressing Speech During Super Bowl

The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute (GI) announced Wednesday that a lawsuit had been filed against the city of Phoenix, alleging that it is violating the first amendment rights of some citizens leading up to the Super Bowl in February.

“Hosting sporting events should not come at the cost of surrendering fundamental rights. But by giving the NFL a blank check to censor the messages people can share, the city of Phoenix is trampling on hundreds of business owners and thousands of residents’ right to communicate with the public on their own property,” said GI Staff Attorney John Thorpe in a statement emailed to The Arizona Sun Times.

As reported by The Sun Times, the GI warned the city that a lawsuit was coming in the middle of December. The issue began when the Phoenix City Council passed Resolution 22073, which created the “Special Promotional and Civic Event Area” (clean zone) where all “temporary signage” not approved by the National Football League (NFL) or the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee (ASBHC) are prohibited through February 19th. The clean zone takes up nearly two square miles of downtown Phoenix. The stated purpose of the resolution was to protect NFL Super Bowl sponsors.

In the letter sent by Thorpe to the city threatening the litigation, he alleged that Arizonan and local business owner Bramley Paulin, whom the GI represents, was negatively impacted by the implementation of the clean zone.

In the official lawsuit, the GI presents evidence of this occurring. Emails show a back-and-forth between Paulin and a representative from Coca-Cola. Paulin expressed interest in the company using his Phoenix property near Super Bowl festivities from February 8-12th to advertise their brands to event attendees. However, the representative stated they would receive a cease-and-desist letter for acting in the clean zone and passed on his offer.

“The city of Phoenix is letting the NFL decide what I can and cannot say on my own property. That’s not right,” Paulin said. “The government shouldn’t censor business owners like me, or any residents of the downtown area, when we communicate with the public—and it certainly shouldn’t let private companies decide what we can say.”

According to the complaint, Bramley has been unable to make any business contracts because of the clean zone and has allegedly contacted the city and ASBHC about resolving this issue, but to no avail.

GI attorneys now argue that the city violates the Arizona Constitution by censoring free speech. The plaintiffs state that “temporary signage” is included in free speech, and by putting a blanket restraint on this speech, the city is violating rights and causing further harm.

“Unless Defendants are enjoined from implementing and administering the Resolution, Plaintiff and others similarly situated will continue to suffer great and irreparable harm,” according to the complaint.

Additionally, the plaintiffs argue that citizens in the clean zone had no real way of challenging any decision made by the NFL, which violates Arizona’s Due Process law. Furthermore, delegating a private company, the NFL, unchecked power to make decisions involving Arizonans’ rights is an unconstitutional delegation.

The GI asked the judge to prevent the city from enforcing the resolution and declare it unconstitutional.

“The Phoenix City Council has already discussed this case in an Executive Session this week—and we’re hopeful that city leaders will rescind these unconstitutional restrictions and restore Phoenicians’ free speech rights,” Thorpe said in his statement to The Sun Times.

The Super Bowl is set for February 12th, leaving only a short window for damages to be undone.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Statefarm Stadium” by Troutfarm27. CC BY-SA 4.0.



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