EDITORIAL: No to newsrack ban

The Clark County Commission is prepared to cross a constitutional line as part of its campaign to clear the Strip of clutter.

Commissioners see the hundreds of newsracks along resort corridor sidewalks as obstacles to pedestrian traffic, not passive outlets for advertisements and information. On Tuesday, the commission will vote on whether to ban them from Las Vegas Boulevard — not just between Sahara Avenue and Russell Road, but on all cross streets 300 feet to the east and west.

Completely snuffing out a source of protected expression is a radical step for a small problem. It’s not like the newsracks are invisible. Pedestrians can easily avoid them. And plenty of people want the publications in those newsracks. (The Review-Journal doesn’t use or own any of the racks at issue.)

The publications distributed through these newsracks are in the business of reaching customers. Forcing the owners to place their products in locations where people don’t walk will crush their companies. That, in turn, will force businesses to try to reach Strip patrons in a different fashion — most likely through handbillers, who are a far bigger annoyance to visitors than the newsracks.

Such pointless battles are nothing new for the county. Over the years, the commission has taken up or passed all kinds of ordinances that attacked free speech. Protecting the experience of Strip visitors, the lifeblood of the economy, is a righteous cause, but not at the expense of the Bill of Rights. The newsrack ban, if passed, will be challenged in court. And like other Strip ordinances before it, it will be ruled as unconstitutional.

“The biggest problem with the proposal is that it completely does away with a particular mode of communication, not just within a small area, but within a much wider area — the resort corridor,” Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel of the ACLU of Nevada, told the Review-Journal. “They don’t really have a justification for getting rid of this First Amendment outlet.”

Indeed. The commission should reject the ordinance.