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Transit Authority GC Questioned Over Politics Ban

By William Vogeler, Esq. on October 04, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For a day, attorney Gino Benedetti probably felt like Brett Kavanaugh testifying before the U.S. Senate.

Benedetti, general counsel for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, had to testify in court about a controversial "no-politics" policy. His agency enacted the policy to ban certain advertising after a judge struck down its previous "public issue" policy.

Unlike Kavanaugh's case, however, it had nothing to do with sexual misconduct. But like the Supreme Court nominee, Benedetti felt the pressure of having every word strictly scrutinized in the free speech case.

"No Politics"

In 2015, a federal judge found the transit authority's ban on "public issue" advertising was unconstitutional. The agency had declined to run ads on its buses with a photograph of Adolf Hitler and a Palestinian leader that read: "Islamic Jew-Hatred: It's in the Quran."

SEPTA followed up with the "no-politics" policy, and banned subsequent advertising about discriminatory lending practices. The Center for Investigative Reporting wanted to place an infographic about racial disparities journalists had uncovered in the mortgage industry.

The Center sued, seeking an injunction against the agency and other relief. Judge Michael Baylson denied the injunction, but held a trial on the validity of the policy.

Benedetti defended it from the witness stand. According to Courthouse News, he testified that the ad expressed "an opinion on matters of public debate about economic, political and social issues."

"The Entire Ad"

Benedetti said the agency had nixed other advertisements for being too political, including an ad to free Meek Mill, a Philadelphia rapper. SEPTA also rejected advertising on nudity, marijuana and a picture of a man holding his crotch.

"We look at the entire ad," Benedetti said. He testified the agency also looks at "the subject matter of that ad being debated in our society at large."

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