Partnering with the ACLU and a team of other lawyers, including several former Hangley Aronchick attorneys, shareholder Robert Wiygul prosecuted a lawsuit on behalf of The Center for Investigative Reporting, which wanted to run an advertisement on the inside of SEPTA buses promoting CIR’s journalism on racial disparities in the home mortgage lending market. SEPTA rejected the proposed ad under its advertising standards, which, as relevant to this case, prohibited ads that are “political in nature” or “express or advocat[e] an opinion, position or viewpoint on matters of public debate and economic, political, religious, historical or social issues.” Rob and the team argued that these standards were invalid under the First Amendment.
The case went to trial in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where Judge Michael Baylson ruled that SEPTA’s advertising standards were unconstitutional as written, but held that they could be made constitutional by striking certain language, and that under the modified standards, SEPTA could lawfully prohibit the ad from running.
The team appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which heard argument in October 2019. In September 2020, the Third Circuit reversed the District Court judgment; held that SEPTA’s standards for advertising, even as modified by the District Court, were unconstitutional (because, under recent Supreme Court precedent, SEPTA’s ban on advertisements addressing “political” issues was too vague and indeterminate to be “capable of reasoned application”); and instructed the District Court to issue an injunction barring SEPTA from enforcing the standards against CIR.Share This Read the opinion