Las Vegas Sun

September 22, 2014

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Anti-handbill signs must come down

The Clark County district attorney's office is reviewing its options today after a federal judge ruled signs prohibiting the distribution of handbills along the Strip must be removed within 30 days.

As the county makes plans to take down about 300 signs that line Las Vegas Boulevard, the debate continues as to whether Clark County's latest attempt to keep companies from passing out sexually explicit material is constitutional.

For years Clark County officials have been trying to get an ordinance prohibiting the distribution of handbills along Las Vegas Boulevard. Such an ordinance, they argued, would stop aggressive distributors from harassing tourists, alleviate crowding on sidewalks and solve littering.

The county eventually developed an ordinance last year and signs informing handbill distributors about the ordinance were put up along the Strip.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August 1998 that the ordinance was unconstitutional and decided that a preliminary injunction, asked for by the American Civil Liberties Union, should be enforced.

The 9th Circuit judges recommended the county restrict the time, place and manner in which handbills could be passed out to tourists and the county went back and revised the ordinance in May.

In the meantime, however, the signs remained.

On Tuesday U.S. District Judge Lloyd George ruled that while the amended ordinance is not "unconstitutionally vague" it is still overbroad because it doesn't distinguish between materials given out for commercial reasons and those advertising activities that are protected by the First Amendment.

George said his ruling did not end the debate over the constitutional validity of the ordinance and said the county could argue at a trial that the ordinance "is a valid time, place and manner restriction."

George, did, however, order the signs removed within the next 30 days.

Gary Peck, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said if the county chooses to go to trial, the ACLU may appeal George's decision regarding the constitutionality of the ordinance.

"But for all practical purposes, the county's attempt at a blanket ban has been found unconstitutional," Peck said. "Unless the county is determined to waste more of its time and the taxpayers' money, I'd expect them to abandon this approach."

The ACLU would be willing to help the county develop reasonable time, place and manner restrictions, Peck said.

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