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Louisville newspaper sues over anti-litter ordinance

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The Louisville Courier-Journal is suing the Louisville city government over an anti-litter ordinance the paper says violates its constitutional rights.

The Louisville Courier-Journal is suing the Louisville city government over an anti-litter ordinance the paper says violates its constitutional rights.

The ordinance, which was approved in June, makes it illegal to distribute unsolicited written materials to homes or business unless they are placed on a porch, in a mailbox, at the front door or in the hands of the owner. The Courier-Journal claims the regulation infringes upon its First Amendment rights by restricting speech "in a manner that does not directly advance a compelling government interest, nor does it leave adequate alternative channels of communication to distribute expressive materials."

According to the Courier-Journal‘s complaint, the paper delivers about 340,000 copies of packets of advertisements and community events a week to subscribers and non-subscribers. The ordinance establishes fines from $100 to $200 for improper delivery of any of those packets. The paper claims it could be thus subject to $68 million in fines each week, which it claims is unconstitutionally excessive under the Eighth Amendment.

The complaint also draws from the Fourteenth Amendment, claiming the law is unconstitutionally vague and deprives citizens of the right to "liberty or property by arbitrary or capricious governmental action." The paper says the penalty is not rationally related to the problem it is attempting to solve.

In a letter sent to the Louisville Metro Council, the Courier-Journal‘s attorney Jon Fleischaker points out that the restrictions do not only affect the newspaper, but also Louisville residents who enjoy receiving the free materials and the small businesses that cannot afford to advertise in the regular daily paper.