U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court denies cert in free-speech appeal over banned 'stop a terrorist' bus ad; two dissent


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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal in a free-speech case by an anti-Muslim group that wants to run public-transit ads in the Seattle area.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the denial of certiorari in an opinion (PDF) joined by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. “This case offers an ideal opportunity to bring clarity to an important area of First Amendment law,” Thomas wrote.

King County, Washington, had refused to accept the public-transit ad submitted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. The banned ad pictured 16 wanted terrorists with the headline “Faces of Global Terrorism.” Beneath the photos were the words: “AFDI Wants You to Stop a Terrorist. The FBI Is Offering Up To $25 Million Reward If You Help Capture One Of These Jihadis.”

King County had found the ad to be false and misleading. Actually, the State Department, not the FBI, was offering the rewards, and though the top reward offered was $25 million, a lesser amount was being offered for the 16 pictured terrorists. The county also said the ad misused the term “jihadi” and was disparaging to minorities by equating their dress and skin color with terrorists.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the county. Thomas said the ad “would likely have met a different fate” if it were before four other federal appeals courts.

“Geographical happenstance” should not determine the outcome, Thomas wrote. “I see no sound reason to shy away from this First Amendment case.”

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