Grosse Pointe Woods Violates Free Speech of Residents

September 17, 2004

DETROIT -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit today in federal court on behalf of a Grosse Pointe Woods resident charging the City for violating the free speech rights of residents through an unconstitutional sign ordinance.

The ACLU is representing Mary Adzigian who posted a Kerry-Edwards sign in her front yard on September 2. Within 24 hours, Ms. Adzigian received a written notice from the code enforcement officer stating that she could not display a sign more than 30 days prior to the election. The notice stated that failure to comply would result in a misdemeanor violation.

"It is ludicrous, during any election but especially during a presidential election year, for cities to be trying to prevent citizens from expressing their opinions on their private property,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “Free speech cannot be limited to the month prior to an election. It is an affront to our most basic liberty to speak out on matters of public importance.”

Although Ms. Adzigian was threatened with criminal prosecution for her Kerry-Edwards sign, her neighbor was not required to take down his “Support President Bush, Support our Troops” sign. The code enforcement officer told her that the 30-day rule only applies to election signs and that her neighbor’s sign was not an election sign

“This isn’t a partisan issue, this is an American issue. What could be more important to America than this presidential election. Shouldn’t we be talking about it for more than 30 days?” said Ms. Adzigian.

She added, “Not only is this political-sign ordinance unconstitutional, it’s being inequitably enforced. I have a wonderful neighborhood and we’ve all agreed to disagree. Both opinions need to be expressed without the city censoring our dialogue.”

In 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that residential signs have long been an important and distinct form of expression that enjoys the highest level of constitutional protection. At that time, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote "with rare exceptions, content discrimination in regulations on the speech of private citizens on private property is presumptively impermissible."

Ms. Adzigian is also challenging the one-sign-per-candidate provision of the Grosse Pointe Woods ordinance that prevents her from placing two Kerry-Edwards signs on her property. Under the ordinance, any resident could post dozens of election signs on private property if each sign was in support of a different candidate.

 In 1996, the ACLU successfully challenged a similar ordinance that prohibited both the posting of election signs more than 45 days before an election and the posting of more than one sign per candidate.   (Dimas v. City of Warren, 939 F. Supp. 554 (E.D. Mich. 1996).

Ms. Adzigian is represented by ACLU cooperating attorney David Radtke and Michigan ACLU Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg.

To read the complaint, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/briefs/gpwsignordinance.pdf

To read the restraining order brief, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/briefs/gpwrestrainingorderbrief.pdf

To read the temporary restraining order, go to:http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/briefs/gpwtro.pdf

To read the federal court decision on the Warren case, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/briefs/dimasvcityofwarren.pdf

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