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Yellow Pages protected by 1st Amendment, court says

October 15, 2012 | 12:11 pm

Phone books, the hefty tomes of telephone numbers that invited consumers to “let your fingers do the walking,” are protected by the 1st Amendment, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals struck down a Seattle ordinance that required publishers of the directories to obtain permits and pay fees before tossing the thick books on driveways.

The fees were supposed to pay for a program in which residents could opt out of receiving the books, but directory publishers said the regulations were unconstitutional.

The 9th Circuit acknowledged that the Internet has replaced phone books for many consumers, and some residents may no longer want the directories.

“The Yellow Pages telephone directory was once a ubiquitous part of American life, found in virtually every household and office,” wrote Judge Richard R. Clifton, an appointee of former President George W. Bush. “But times have changed, and today phone books, like land-line telephones themselves, are not so universally accepted.”

Still, phone books, like newspapers, are protected by free-speech guarantees, the court said. “The 1st Amendment does not make protection contingent on the perceived value of certain speech,” the court said.

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— Maura Dolan

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