August 30, 2012

PLF's newest lawsuit: Do you need government permission to publish an advertisement?

By PLF's newest lawsuit: Do you need government permission to publish an advertisement?

Leslie Young is an entrepreneur. Her business, Elist.me, helps people who want to sell their homes “by owner” instead of through a real estate agent. A homeowner who wants to sell provides information about the house, Ms. Young inputs the information into her database, and that information is then fed to websites that publish for-sale-by-owner advertisements. She’s paid a flat $95 fee for each advertisement.

But according to the state of Nebraska, that’s illegal. The state’s Real Estate Commission sent her a cease and desist order, saying that she’s practicing the trade of a real estate broker, and must get a broker’s license—or face civil and even criminal penalties for publishing advertisements of property located in Nebraska.

Getting a broker’s license isn’t a small thing. It requires 180 hours of government-approved real estate classes, and take continuing education classes every two years. Needless to say, since Ms. Young isn’t a real estate broker—never deals with sellers or buyers directly, doesn’t take a commission or show homes—most of these classes would teach skills for which she has no use.

Not only does this restriction interfere needlessly with Leslie Young’s constitutional right to earn a living—it also violates her First Amendment rights. Since when can government force people to get a license before she can publish information? Young’s business is no different than the classified ads section of a newspaper, and the government doesn’t require newspaper publishers to get licenses as real estate agents before they print their pages. And the Supreme Court has repeatedly held—including in an important case last year—that the right to publish information, even if you do it for money—is protected by the First Amendment.

Leslie Young’s case is just the latest example of how government interference with the rights of businesses also intrudes on other important constitutional rights. Although courts have often given preference to freedom of speech or press over the right to do business, there’s no constitutional basis for doing so. All of our rights deserve constitutional protection.

You can learn more about our lawsuit on behalf of Leslie Young by reading this litigation backgrounder or the complaint in her case.

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