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Architectural commission has authority to ban newsracks, court finds

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Architectural commission has authority to ban newsracks, court finds01/29/96 MASSACHUSETTS--An architectural commission has the authority under state law to ban…

Architectural commission has authority to ban newsracks, court finds

01/29/96

MASSACHUSETTS–An architectural commission has the authority under state law to ban “street furniture,” including newsracks, from the Beacon Hill historical district, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled in early January.

In a 4-2 ruling, the court held that news racks are “structures” with “external architectural features,” and therefore fall subject to the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission’s “Street Furniture Guidelines” to regulate the esthetics of the historic neighborhood.

Five newspaper publishing companies, including Globe Newspaper Co. and the New York Times Co., joined forces five years ago to fight the architectural commission’s ban on news racks.

After the commission’s 1991 amendment to prohibit news racks, the newspapers sued the commission in the federal District Court in Boston, arguing that the guidelines to regulate news racks violated their First Amendment rights and the committee did not have the authority to issue such guidelines.

The federal District Court sided with the newspapers on both of these issues. The architectural commission appealed the ruling, arguing that they did have the authority to regulate “street furniture.” The federal Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.) referred the question of the commission’s authority to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled in favor of the commission.

The federal Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.) has yet to decide the issue of whether the rule banning “street furniture” violates the First Amendment rights of the newspaper publishing companies. (Globe Newspaper Co. v. Beacon Hill Architectural Comm’n; Media Counsel: James C. Heigham)