It's OK to crank up the music, Florida Supreme Court rules

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Dec 13 (Reuters) - Motorist Richard

Catalano's five-year quest to crank up Justin Timberlake tunes

on his way to work won the blessing of the Florida Supreme Court

on Thursday.

In a unanimous ruling, the state's highest court affirmed a

pair of lower-court opinions that a 2007 state law prohibiting

loud music while driving violated the U.S. Constitution's First

Amendment, which guarantees freedom of expression.

Catalano received a $73 ticket in 2007 for violating the

newly enacted law that prohibited motorists from playing music

that is "plainly audible" 25 feet (7.6 meters) away. Motorists

traveling by hospitals, schools and churches were subjected to

even stricter standards.

Catalano, a Clearwater lawyer, challenged the law as

subjective, arguing that determining whether music was too loud

was in the ears of the beholder.

Further, the law provides listeners with fewer protections

than drivers of vehicles emitting political or commercial

speech, who have more explicit protections under the U.S.

Constitution.

Calling the law overly broad, Justice Jorge Labarga wrote

that noncommercial speech was also protected. Though rejecting

the notion that the law was too vague, Labarga said the state

showed no compelling interest in muzzling audiophiles who also

prefer to feel their favorite music.

"The right to play music, including amplified music, in

public fora is protected under the First Amendment," Labarga

wrote.

A message left with Catalano was not immediately returned

Thursday.

(Editing by Jane Sutton; Editing by Will Dunham)

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