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Super Bowl Censorship Suspended: Phoenix Agrees to Court Order Blocking Unconstitutional Law

January 18, 2023

An Arizona trial judge this morning issued an order barring the city of Phoenix from enforcing its Super Bowl censorship law—a city ordinance that forbids people from displaying signs without first getting permission from both government bureaucrats and the National Football League (NFL). Representing local business owner Bramley Paulin, the Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit arguing that the ordinance violates the freedom of speech protected by both state and federal constitutions, and asking for an order blocking enforcement of the ordinance. In today’s hearing, city lawyers agreed to the entry of a temporary injunction that halts enforcement of that ordinance until next week, when the City Council is expected to meet to discuss repealing the censorship law.

Both the Arizona Constitution and the First Amendment forbid the government from imposing so-called “content-based” restrictions on free speech. “Content-based” restrictions are laws that treat free expression differently based on the message it conveys. But the Super Bowl censorship law requires the NFL and the city to decide what messages can and can’t be displayed on signs—a serious problem for businessmen like Bramley, who are denied the right to make advertising contracts as a result of the pre-approval requirement. Worse, the ordinance did not say what criteria officials would use to decide what signs are acceptable—meaning that the city was giving the NFL (a private business) the power to decide at will what signs to permit or forbid.

After the lawsuit was filed, city officials were quoted in local media saying that they planned to change the law to “remove the NFL and the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee from involvement” in permit decisions. This morning, the city’s legal representatives agreed to have the judge block enforcement of the law until that meeting. If the city fails to remove the ordinance’s unconstitutional provisions, the judge will review the case again to decide whether to block its enforcement permanently.

Read can read more about this case here.

Timothy Sandefur is the Vice President for Legal Affairs at the Goldwater Institute.



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