You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Wed, Jun 5, 2013 : 3:46 p.m.

Judge rules AATA had grounds to reject anti-Israel ad after revising its policy

By Amy Biolchini

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority had the grounds to not run an anti-Israel ad proposed by Ann Arbor resident and pro-Palestinian activist Blaine Coleman because the organization had revised its ad policy.

In U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith's written opinion on the ruling, he stated the basis for Coleman's suit was now moot and AATA's ad policy presented no ongoing constitutional violation or threat of harm.


Blaine Coleman's ad that AATA rejected twice.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued AATA on Coleman's behalf in November 2011 after AATA refused to run the "Boycott Israel -- Boycott Apartheid" ad on the sides of its buses. AATA claimed the ad violated its advertising policy -- which Coleman claimed was unconstitutional.

In July, Judge Goldsmith ruled AATA's decision to reject Coleman's ad was wrong and prompted the AATA revised its ad policy. The revision deleted the "good taste" provision in the policy and added a portion barring political ads.

AATA re-considered Coleman's ad under its revised policy -- per Judge Goldsmith's ruling -- and rejected the ad again.

Judge Goldsmith's Tuesday judgment stated that because a limited public forum created through AATA's policy revision process Coleman's ad could be rejected without a violation of Coleman's constitutional rights. Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Fri, Jun 7, 2013 : 2:55 p.m.

No surprise here. This case had CONFLICT OF INTEREST written all over it from the very beginning. If you can't see the potential conflict then pick another contentious political issue and do a thought experiment. Suppose, for example, that Israel had nothing to do with this and the lawsuit concerned someone trying to run a pro-abortion/pro-choice ad on AATA buses that used charged imagery–something featuring a bloody coat hanger perhaps–to depict the consequences of outlawing or severely restricting legal access to abortion. How would you view the matter of conflicts of interest if you learned that the AATA counsel, board chair, and one or more other board members who voted to censor the ad were indirect/direct supporters of Operation Rescue, local anti-abortion churches, or similar anti-abortion organizations? Now, consider how you would react if you learned that the federal judge hearing the case also had direct and significant financial investments in anti-abortion organizations and sent his 16-year-old daughter to intern with Operation Rescue. In the real life case of Coleman v. AATA presiding judge Mark Goldsmith's 2010 federal Financial Disclosure Report (Section VII) indicates that he doesn't own any US bonds but he does own Israel Bonds and they're the only asset for which he did not declare a value. Goldsmith and his wife also sent their sixteen-year-old daughter to study in Israel. The nominee's questionnaire Goldsmith submitted to the judiciary committee, he discloses that he became Vice-President for Religious Affairs of B'nai B'rith Barristers in 2009. "Advocacy for Israel" is second on B'nai B'rith's list of "Our Prime Issues". B'nai B'rith has publicly "condemned" supporters, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of the international boycott of Israel. Furthermore, Goldsmith has been a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee since the 1990s.

Colorado Sun

Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 3:15 p.m.

God bless the Palestinian people in their quest for freedom and human dignity. Thanks to the ACLU for their efforts in this case.

E Claire

Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 3:52 p.m.

they could start first by ending the practice of raising their children to hate


Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 2:34 p.m.

Instead of making ignorant comments about a topic which you know very little I suggest watching this enlightening video titled, "The Case for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions," by Sherry Wolf.


Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 3:22 p.m.

You are confusing the issue of having an opinion on the subject vs having an opinion on the appropriateness of the advertisement or its location on a bus or the policy that decides these things.


Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

There seems to be a verb missing in the concluding sentence of the story: "because a limited public forum created through AATA's policy revision process Coleman's ad could be rejected without a violation of Coleman's constitutional rights."


Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 11:15 a.m.

"prompted the AATA revised its ad policy." prompted the AATA to revise its ad plocy. prompted the AATA's revised ad policy.


Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 11:18 a.m.

Policy, not plocy...

Colorado Sun

Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 3:46 a.m.

The case is not over yet. Blaine Coleman has a monetary damage claim yet to be adjudicated and Judge Goldsmith has scheduled a Status Conference for June 12th in his Courtroom. This ruling only addresses prospective injunctive relief. Blaine Coleman may be laughing all the way to the bank.

Colorado Sun

Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 3:35 a.m.

The ACLU will be appealing this ruling to the federal circuit court of appeals in Cincinnati. The ACLU will likely be filing a motion for taxing of its attorney fees and costs due to their successful position that the AATA violated the First Amendment in at least two ways. This could run into several hundred thousand dollars of exposure to the AATA. The AATA has been footing the bill for several law firms and an expert witness. One of the firms was appointed by a liability insurance carrier with a $50,000.00 defense cost deductible. AATA aggregate legal fees are likely well over $100,000; the AATA has been studiously avoiding discussion of this aspect in public. The AATA could face increased liability insurance premiums due to this case. A number of civic leaders including David Cahill and Vivienne Armentrout have been critical of the AATA - Cahill believes the ad should be run and Armentrout has opined that ads on buses need to be discontinued due to the exposure to costly litigation. This lawsuit was motivated by pro-Israel activists well-connected in municipal government. Public funds financed their political agenda in stifling criticism of Israel. We have not heard the last of the ACLU on this case.


Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 2:40 a.m.

I guess free speech only works if you support a particular political position. If you oppose the position, than you try and attack the messenger in an effort to discredit the message.


Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 12:02 a.m.

Perhaps Coleman should move to Palestine and gather much sympathy for his ideas.


Wed, Jun 5, 2013 : 9:37 p.m.

What exactly is the point of running Blaine Coleman's ad for free?

Basic Bob

Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 11:04 a.m.

It's a free country.

Boo Radley

Wed, Jun 5, 2013 : 9:42 p.m.

I think this is a very newsworthy article. Thanks to for the follow up on the court decision in this case.


Wed, Jun 5, 2013 : 8:51 p.m.

This guy is an ongoing public nuisance and is a good example why their needs to be some form of penalty to those that bring frivolous lawsuits. I can think of many ways to spend tax dollars other than defending lawsuits that have no merit.


Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.

Perhaps you mean, "there needs to be some form of penalty." With that said, did you not read the article? The person won his lawsuit. The AATA's ad policy was found to be unconstitutional. Consequently, it had to change the policy. Under the old policy, the AATA could pick and choose what political ads it would allow. Under this policy, it will not be able to show any political ads. A lawsuit where the party suing ultimately wins is hardly frivolous.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 1:58 a.m.

"frivolous lawsuits." Newsflash - he won his lawsuit. They were forced to change the wording of their policy in order to restrict his speech. So it was hardly frivolous.


Wed, Jun 5, 2013 : 9:38 p.m.

Don't forget the ACLU that aided and abetted him.


Wed, Jun 5, 2013 : 8:48 p.m.

Good for AATA.

An Arborigine

Wed, Jun 5, 2013 : 8:42 p.m.

Common sense prevails, wonder if the loser will appeal?

Top Cat

Wed, Jun 5, 2013 : 8:17 p.m.

NIce to see that sanity prevails now and then.

Irwin Daniels

Wed, Jun 5, 2013 : 7:58 p.m.

I am wondering how long the comments on this article will be open? This is something that is just not going to go away anytime soon. Thank you AATA for being strong

Colorado Sun

Thu, Jun 6, 2013 : 3:38 a.m.

It's not over yet by a long shot. Appeals and attorney fee requests are coming.