Updated with comments from council member Mike O'Brien and Neg Norton, president of the local search association.
In a ruling released today, a three-judge panel from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that yellow pages qualify as a form of free speech, and that a 2010 ordinance passed by the Seattle City Council, establishing a resident opt-out system and imposing penalties for mis-delivered books, unduly infringes upon freedom-loving phonebook companies' ability to spread their free speech on every goddamn doorstep they so choose.
"The City of Seattle imposes substantial conditions and costs on the distribution of yellow pages phone directories," states the 26-page ruling (.pdf) of DEX MEDIA WEST, INC. v. SEATTLE, before adding:
We conclude that the yellow pages directories qualify for full protection under the First Amendment. Although portions of the directories are obviously commercial in nature, the books contain more than that, and we conclude that the directories are entitled to the full protection of the First Amendment. As a result, when we evaluate the Ordinance under strict scrutiny, it does not survive. Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendants and remand for the entry of judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.
The 2010 city ordinance, championed by council member Mike O'Brien, was the first of its kind in the country to establish a resident opt-out registry for the phonebooks. More than 25 percent of households and businesses have opted out of more than 435,000 phone books, saving over 400 tons of paper. An earlier district court decision rejected the phonebook companies' challenge of it.
Neg Norton, president of the local search association and a man seemingly unfamiliar with the Internet, says that the Court’s ruling is "good news for residents who find value in the free and easy access to community information, emergency information, and local business listings that print Yellow Pages offer."
Because my first response to an emergency is, "Quick! To the yellow pages!"
“The people of Seattle also should have the right to say ‘no’ and right to privacy when unwanted yellow pages land on their doorstep," says O'Brien, who is probably sobbing into a stack of yellow pages at this very moment.
It's unclear right now what the city's next steps will be—city officials could ask for a reconsideration of the ruling, ask to have the whole panel of ninth circuit judges review the case (instead of a panel of three), or try to plead their case before the U.S. Supreme Court. "We simply don't know yet," says City Attorney spokeswoman Kimberly Mills. "We're assembling a panel of lawyers right now to read through the decision."
The City of Seattle will release a statement
later today whenever the fuck they feel like it.