- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2018

A federal judge ruled Wednesday against forcing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority into running advertisements promoting the American Civil Liberties Union’s national conference in downtown D.C. next month.

In a nine-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan denied the ACLU’s request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would have otherwise required the transit agency to place paid ads on buses and in train stations touting the group’s upcoming conference.

ACLU did not demonstrate it would win the case if its request went to trial, she ruled from D.C. federal court, adding Metro “reasonably concluded that the ACLU’s proposed advertisement violated its prohibition on advertisements intended to influence public policy.”

Metro’s “rejection of the ACLU’s advertisements appears to be consistent with reasonable past practice approved by this court, and for that reason, its application of the Guidelines to these facts cannot be considered arbitrary or capricious,” the judge ruled.

ACLU will not challenge the ruling, said Arthur Spitzer, the legal director the the group’s D.C. office.

“We’re disappointed that the judge didn’t see the same discrimination that we saw, but considering that there is little time left to try to overturn her decision, we have decided not to appeal,” Mr. Spitzer said in a statement.

Metro declined to comment on the ruling when reached by The Washington Times.

The ACLU had planned to promote its conference throughout the Metro system in the days before the event starts June 10, but Metro rejected multiple proposed ads, citing policies prohibiting “advertisements intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions” and “advertisements that are intended to influence public policy,” spurring the ACLU’s lawsuit last week.

“If Ringling Bros. can advertise for people to come to their circus, the ACLU should be able to advertise for people to come to its conference,” ACLU’s attorneys argued in the suit.

“The court disagrees with the ACLU’s suggestion that WMATA is necessarily limited to the face of the advertisement in determining whether that advertisement fits within its Guidelines,” the judge ruled Wednesday.

Metro’s attorneys previously argued that accepting ACLU’s reasoning would mean that the agency would have to run ads by hate groups as well.

“WMATA is not required to ignore the political advocacy content and purpose of the conference and (the) plaintiff’s long history of political advocacy when deciding if an ad violates its guidelines,” Metro’s attorneys wrote in a court filing over the weekend. “Were it otherwise, WMATA would have to accept ads from all manner of political advocacy organizations — national parties, political action committees, right-to-life and pro-choice groups and even groups like the Ku Klux Klan.”

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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