Clawson Sign Ordinance Unconstitutional Says ACLU in Letter to City Officials

August 02, 2006

DETROIT-- In a letter today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan urged Clawson city officials to amend their political sign ordinance to protect their residents’ constitutional right to free speech.

Currently, it is a crime in Clawson to display a political sign over three square feet in size in one’s yard, have more than three political signs per yard, or post a sign 45 days before an election. Also, the ordinance states that a political sign may not stand for more than 30 days per calendar year.
 
“The law could not be more clear. The courts have repeatedly told cities that such political sign ordinances are simply unconstitutional,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “The right for Americans to express their political opinions has long been considered a cornerstone of American democracy.  Clawson should work to protect the right to free speech and not infringe upon it.”
 
The courts have consistently ruled that cities cannot treat political speech less favorably than commercial speech.  Nonetheless, “For Sale” signs in Clawson may be up to three times the size of political signs.  Similarly, while it is a crime to put up a political sign more than 45 days before an election or to put more than three signs up at a time, there are no numerical or durational limits on many non-political signs.  The Supreme Court has recognized the unique place that political yard signs play in our democracy and has noted that residents’ self-interest in keeping their neighborhood looking good generally makes government interference with residents’ First Amendment rights unnecessary.

“Political signs and our First Amendment rights have been a recurring issue across Oakland County,” said Richard Lobenthal, President, ACLU of Michigan Oakland County Branch. “Our past litigation on this issue has been a wake-up call to several communities, and we hope Clawson will join these communities and do the right thing."
 
For the past several years, the Oakland County ACLU has written numerous letters to other Oakland County municipalities to amend unconstitutional sign ordinances to protect the free speech rights of their residents. The City of Troy opted not to amend its ordinance and was later sued by the ACLU of Michigan.  A federal court struck down the Troy ordinance as unconstitutional in January.  
 
To read the letter sent to the City of Clawson, go to http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/clawsonsignordinancelet...

To read the court decision in the Troy case, go to http://www.aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/troypoliticalsigndecision.pdf

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