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  Freedom Line

The information reproduced here was provided to the Westover City Council





Basic Principles

The [Government] shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech. - First Amendment to the United States Constitution

In Curry v. Prince George’s County, Maryland, 33 F. Supp. 2d 447 (D.C. Md. 1999), the Court held that

The United States Supreme Court has held that "the First Amendment ‘has its fullest and most urgent application’ to speech uttered during a campaign for political office." Moreover, "communication by signs and posters is virtually pure speech."

Improperly Requiring Permits and Charging Fees for Campaign Signs

. . . there is no justification for imposing [a permit and fee requirement] in the case of campaign signs posted upon a private residence. There are no expenses to defray of the sort attributable to parades and processions . . . "Political signs neither interfere with the use of the streets nor create a risk of disorder." In any event, nominality of the license fee is beside the point. "A tax on the content of speech does not become more constitutional because it is a small tax." . . . As the Supreme Court suggested . . . a prime virtue of residential signs is that they are "an unusually cheap and convenient form of communication. Especially for persons of modest means . . . a yard or window sign may have no practical substitute. . . . Fee and permit requirements increase the cost and decrease the convenience of this favored form of communication. They amount to little more than "a charge for the enjoyment of a privilege or benefit bestowed by the State. [But] The privilege in question exists apart from state authority. It is guaranteed the people by the federal constitution. . . . The County’s permit and fee requirements insofar as they apply to campaign signs posted upon private residences are also unconstitutional.

Curry v. Prince George’s County, Maryland, 33 F. Supp. 2d 447 (D.C. Md. 1999) The burden of applying a $1.00 inspection fee and a $5.00 deposit for sign removal is found by the Court to be so great as to inhibit the use of this means of communication. . . . [A] $5.00 removal deposit has no relationship to the cost of removing a single 50 cent political poster placed by a property owner in his front yard, and the charge is so disproportionately burdensome as to inhibit such an expression of political opinion. . . . [These regulations] are unnecessarily burdensome and arbitrary in light of the interests such regulations may properly serve.

Baldwin v. Redwood City, 540 F.2d 1360 (9th Cir. 1976)

Unconstitutionality of Duration Limits for Temporary Political Signs

- Whitton v. Gladstone, 54 F.3d 1400 (8th Cir. 1995) - Ordinance deemed unconstitutional which limited placement or erection of political signs from thirty days prior to the election to which the sign pertains until seven days after the election.

- Dimas v. Warren, 939 F. Supp. 554 (E.D. Mich. 1996) - Ordinance deemed unconstitutional which prohibited posting of political yard signs earlier than forty-five days prior to any election, and ordering removal within seven days after.

- Orazio v. North Hempstead, 426 F. Supp. 1144 (E.D.N.Y. 1977) - Holding that no time limit on the display of pre-election political signs is permissible under the First Amendment.

- Antioch v. Candidates’ Outdoor Graphic Serv., 557 F. Supp. 52 (N.D. Cal. 1982) - Ordinance deemed unconstitutional which limited display of political signs to the period of sixty days before election.

- Collier v. Tacoma, 854 P.2d 1046 (Wa. 1993) - Ordinance deemed unconstitutional which limited posting of political signs to the period sixty days prior to election and seven days after, where no time restrictions were imposed on other temporary signs.

- Christensen v. Wheaton, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1737 (N.D. Ill. 2000) - Granting preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of ordinance the effect of which was to prohibit the display of political signs for more than thirty days.

- Curry v. Prince George’s County, Maryland, 33 F. Supp. 2d 447 (D.C. Md. 1999) - Ordinance deemed unconstitutional that banned political signs in private residences for all but forty-five days before and ten days after an election.


The unlimited power of removal . . . is unconstitutional because it does not attempt to accommodate the city’s interest in removing improperly placed signs with First Amendment rights.

Qualified immunity lies only when a government official acts within his or her scope of employment or duties. Removal of signs without requisite notice lies outside of the ordinance and extinguishes any qualified immunity that may result.

The summary seizure of a political sign for even a few days can rob the sign’s owner of an important First Amendment right.

[Posted May 17, 2002]

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