Judges: Airport's news rack ban violates First Amendment

The Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority is violating the First Amendment with its ban on newspaper coin vending racks at the airport, a federal appellate court ruled today.

In a split 2-1 vote, a panel of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond upheld a lower court order in favor of The News & Observer and three other newspaper companies that sued RDU in 2004 over its news rack ban.

U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle ruled in November 2008 that RDU must allow the newspapers to install news racks in passenger terminals at the public airport, which is owned by local governments in Durham and Wake counties.

The appellate panel also affirmed Boyle's order that RDU must pay the newspapers' legal fees.

"We're pleased that the courts continue to back our position, and we're looking forward to putting our racks out there," said Orage Quarles III, publisher of The N&O. "From the beginning, we felt we had First Amendment protections, and the courts have agreed."

The RDU authority can comply with Boyle's ruling or file an appeal to have the case heard again by the same three-judge panel, by the full 13-member Fourth Circuit court, or by the U.S. Supreme Court. An airport spokesman said no decision had been made Friday.

"We are reviewing the decision with our attorney and advising our board members," Andrew Sawyer said by e-mail.