ACLU Praises Liquor Commission’s Decision to Honor Free Speech Rights of Business Owners in Michigan

October 24, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan applauded the Michigan Liquor Control Commission’s decision today to stop enforcing its rule barring businesses with liquor licenses from displaying election signs. The ACLU of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit last week on behalf the Aut Bar, a popular restaurant and bar in Ann Arbor, arguing that the rule violated the First Amendment. 

“With the election just two weeks away, we are pleased that the Liquor Control Commission has agreed to stop enforcing an archaic rule that violated the free speech rights of Michigan bar and restaurant owners for more than 50 years,” said Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan legal director. “As of today, restaurant, bars and liquor store owners throughout the state are free to display election signs on their own property without fear of being fined or losing their liquor license.”

In its lawsuit, the ACLU of Michigan argued that the MLCC rule violated the First Amendment by denying individuals who own businesses that sell alcohol their fundamental right to express their views about political candidates while allowing signs on virtually any other topic -- including commercial signs, signs about ballot initiatives and advocacy signs addressing social issues. 

In addition to agreeing to stop enforcing the rule, the MLCC has agreed to expedite the process to officially rescind the no-election-signs rule, which took effect in 1954. Before the ACLU case was filed, the penalty for violating the rule ranged from a $300 fine to loss of a liquor license. 

Several weeks ago, Aut Bar owner Martin Contreras posted signs in front of his business supporting John Dingell for Congress and Carole Kuhnke for Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge. However, after learning about the no-election-signs rule and consulting with the Liquor Control Commission staff, he removed the signs. In light of this decision, the signs will be posted again immediately. 

“When my partner and I opened the Aut Bar 17 years ago we wanted to open a positive and affirming gathering place for the men and women of the gay community, their families and friends,” said Contreras at the time the lawsuit was filed. “Our goal was not only to provide great food, but also a safe place for networking and information sharing especially surrounding political decisions that impact our families." 

In addition to Steinberg, Contreras and the Aut Bar are represented by ACLU Cooperating Attorney Genevieve E. Scott.

To read the complaint, go to http://www.aclumich.org/sites/default/files/AutBar.pdf

For a photo of the owners of the Aut Bar with their political signs, go to:http://www.aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/autbar.jpg

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