Judge rules city of Phoenix’s ‘Clean Zone’ is unconstitutional

A judge ruled the NFL can't censor Phoenix business owners or residents and prevent them from putting up signs on their property.
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 1:05 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 2, 2023 at 5:18 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- A Maricopa County Superior Court judge has ruled in favor of a downtown Phoenix property owner who sued the City of Phoenix’s ordinance that attempted to require a permit for certain residents to place non-Super Bowl-related signage on their property until a week after the big game. On Thursday, a judge said the so-called “Clean Zone” is unconstitutional. “There is no legitimate government interest in content-based regulation of signs, let alone regulation of signs based on the content preferences of private businesses that are given special privileges by the government,” a portion of the ruling read. The judge gave the city 48 hours to approve or deny Bramley Paulin’s application. He was the plaintiff represented by the Goldwater Institute attorneys.

“I’m relieved the court has ruled against the city’s attempt to let private organizations decide what I can and cannot say on my own property,” Bramley said in a statement released to the media after the ruling. “The city should have never allowed this to happen in the first place: it’s wrong for the government to let the NFL and other private groups censor business owners like me, or any residents of the downtown area.”

Hundreds of people and businesses would have needed a permit from the city and permission from the NFL and Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee to put up non-NFL related temporary signs between Jan. 15 through Feb. 19. City leaders previously told Arizona’s Family that ‘Clean Zones’ are not uncommon surrounding big sporting events like the Super Bowl. Still, many residents expressed concern about their First Amendment rights on their property.

Troy Yazzie is among some business owners who weren’t happy when the city of Phoenix and the NFL announced they were restricting what signs could be put up in windows and storefronts before and after the Super Bowl. “I think businesses should be allowed to operate in a manner that they see fit,” said Yazzie. “To be told, treated like we are children and have to go get things approved by a committee, it doesn’t seem fitting at all.”

Jon Riches, with the Goldwater Institute, filed a lawsuit on behalf of a business owner, claiming the “Clean Zone” violated his client’s right to free speech. “They were trying to control who could say what and where in downtown Phoenix, and that’s just not permissible,” said Riches. “Private parties don’t get exclusive ability to communicate with the public, no matter what agreement they enter into with cities.”

Riches believes the NFL was trying to monopolize any advertisements in downtown Phoenix. He hopes the court ruling changes how the NFL does business in the future. “If other cities and towns are going to be considering these sorts of restrictions that violate our rights, they should be on notice, that’s not going to happen,” he said.

The city of Phoenix released this statement:

Editor’s Note: Arizona’s Family is a broadcast partner of the Super Bowl Host Committee.