A federal appeals court has overturned a Seattle law allowing for the restriction of yellow page phone book distribution.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that directories qualify for full free speech protection under the First Amendment, according to the decision. The law had required publishers of the directories to obtain a permit and pay a fee to cover the cost of operating and promoting an opt-out registry for residents and the directories.
The publishers challenged the law and a U.S. District Court upheld it, ruling that the directories represented commercial speech, which is allowed less protection under the First Amendment. But the Pasadena, Calif.-based Circuit Court of Appeals determined that Seattle does not have the right to enact or enforce opt-out programs.
"We are extremely disappointed by the court's ruling on this important environmental and social issue," said Scott Cassel, CEO of the Boston-based Product Stewardship Institute Inc., in a news release. "Allowing directory publishers to deliver unwanted phone books is a huge waste of natural resources that results in negative environmental impacts, and it's a cost to Seattle taxpayers of nearly $200,000 each year. What's more, the ruling essentially deprives citizens of their right to choose."
The Berkeley Heights, N.J.-based Local Search Association, which brings together local businesses and consumers, was pleased with the ruling. “Today’s decision will protect all media, including yellow pages, from restrictions that hurt local businesses and consumers and cost taxpayer dollars,” the group said in a news release.
It also expressed hope that the decision would lead to overturning a similar law in San Francisco that it calls even more restrictive.