Litter vs. Speech Will Go to Court

It didn’t take long for the Courier-Journal to file suit against the city over the Metro Council’s new anti-littering ordinance.

The Council approved the ordinance this month, which doesn’t outlaw the distribution of C-J advertising supplements, but requires that they be delivered to porches instead of thrown on driveways and streets. A similar ordinance was proposed two years ago, but the C-J at that time convinced the Council that it would voluntarily change the way the supplements are distributed. That worked briefly, but Council members say it’s gotten out of hand again.

C-J publisher Arnold Garson says he can’t accept the restrictions in the ordinance, even though he claims the supplements aren’t thrown on driveways and sidewalks.

The Council gets lots of complaints about the little green bags. The problem is especially prevalent in the South End, places like Okolona, PRP and Valley Station, but also in sponsor Brent Ackerson’s district, around Taylorsville Road and Browns Lane.

Ackerson said he met with C-J representatives shortly before the ordinance was passed. He was confident, after talking with the county attorney’s office, that the ordinance was constitutional. He said the paper was unwilling to discuss a way to pass any type of ordinance, claiming that any type of  legal restriction would be unconstitutional. So the meeting was unproductive, and the Council moved ahead.

The newspaper claims it’s a First Amendment matter.  The Council says there’s a limit to how much you can litter on the streets of the city.

If the ordinance survives the C-J’s fight, its effects may be felt by politicians this fall, because it applies to political advertisements, or any printed material distributed without consent. Imagine the stakes as opponents in political races charge each other with violating the ordinance, and then lodge complaints with the city.

C-J attorney Jon Fleischaker, in a gross exaggeration, wrote in the paper’s suit that fines could equal $68 million a week. No, that won’t happen as long as the C-J instructs its carriers to deliver the supplements properly.

The county attorney’s office will defend the ordinance in court. The law was scheduled to go into effect Aug. 25.