Judge Strikes Down Attack On Free Speech By NFL, Phoenix 

Jay Maxson | February 4, 2023
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The high and mighty NFL and City of Phoenix thought they could restrict free speech in Arizona’s capital city. They thought wrong. A judge on Friday smacked down their attempts to allow only Super Bowl-related messaging for businesses in the weeks leading up to the league’s championship game. 

While cozying up to the NFL in the run-up to the Feb. 12 Super Bowl, the lefties who run city government in Phoenix passed the “Super Bowl Censorship Ordinance’’ to restrict business sign messaging to only Super Bowl-related language. 

An Arizona trial court judge, Bradley Astrowski, ripped apart that blatant attack on free speech, declaring the ordinance “an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech and an unconstitutional delegation of power.” The city was given 48 hours to review the plaintiffs’ request to advertise in his own business window space that he has property available for leasing. Bramley Paulin was represented in his lawsuit by the Goldwater Insitute, a Phoenix-based legal firm that works to advance, defend and strengthen the freedom guaranteed by the U.S. and state Constitutions. 

Furthermore, the judge said the city’s ordinance violated business owners’ free speech rights and “unconstitutionally delegated power to the National Football League (NFL) and Super Bowl Host Committee.” 

This past fall, the city adopted the troubling ordinance and declared a section of the downtown a “clean zone” where private businesses were prohibited from putting up a sign without having it reviewed and approved by the NFL and the Host Committee. 

“That’s unconstitutional for many reasons,” wrote Timothy Sandefur in his Goldwater Institute post on the court victory. “For one thing, the government isn’t allowed to give its power away to private parties—something lawyers call ‘delegation.’ Yet Phoenix was giving the Committee and the NFL the power to decide what signs could be posted.” 

The judge agreed, stating: “Handing over power to an unaccountable third party is totally antithetical to the principles of limited government enshrined in Arizona’s Constitution.” The judge also found fault with the vagueness or the ordinance, which ”provides no standards to guide decision-makers' discretion.” 

What the NFL and city issued a prior restraint, something long frowned upon by courts of law. They are “the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on free expression,” the judge wrote. 

Bramley, who lost opportunities to lease property because of the attack on his free speech, was satisfied with the ruling: 

I’m relieved the court has ruled against the city’s attempt to let private organizations decide what I can and cannot say on my own property. The city should have never allowed this to happen in the first place: it’s wrong for the government to let the NFL and other private groups censor business owners like me, or any residents of the downtown area.

Sandefur said, “Freedom of speech—including the right to advertise—is one of our most basic constitutional values. As the big game approaches, it’s refreshing to see our constitutional rights start the festivities with a clean touchdown.” 

Better luck next year, NFL. You might try reading the Constitution, especially the First Amendment. 

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