Town should also inform citizens of right to erect signs, says civil liberties group

The ACLU of Virginia today asked the Farmville Town Council to repeal its ordinance prohibiting the placement of campaign signs on private property more than 30 days before an election. The ACLU also asked the Town Council to refrain from enforcing the ordinance until it is repealed.
“The ordinance violates one of the most fundamental principles of free speech—your right, on your own property, to express your views on a political campaign,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “Not only must Farmville repeal this ordinance, it should also make a public announcement letting every town resident know that they have a constitutional right to erect a campaign sign in their front yard anytime they choose.”
The ordinance drew attention recently when Jeremiah Heaton, a candidate for the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors, was forced to cover a campaign sign he had erected in the yard of a friend. The friend lives in the part of Farmville that lies within Heaton’s election district in Cumberland. Violators of the ordinance can be fined up to $250 per day.
Legal precedents striking down ordinances that regulate political signs on private property are indisputable. In her letter to Farmville Mayor Sydnor C. Newman, Jr., ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca K. Glenberg writes:
In City of Ladue v. Gilleo, 512 U.S. 43 (1994), the Supreme Court unanimously struck down an ordinance that prohibited all residential signs with a short list of exceptions. The Court noted that the ordinance “almost completely foreclosed a venerable mans of communication that is both unique and important.” Further, “[r]esidential signs are an unusually cheap and convenient form of communication. Especially for persons of modest means or limited mobility, a yard or window sign may have no practical substitute.”
Glenberg also sites six federal court cases specifically striking down time limits on political signs.
The Farmville Town Council is scheduled to meet tonight at 7 p.m. The ACLU hopes the Council will use the meeting to announce that it will no longer enforce the sign ordinance and that it is taking the first steps toward repeal of the ordinance.
The ACLU is interested in making contact with residents of Farmville who has been prevented from, or fear the consequences of, erecting a political sign on their own property.
The full text of the ACLU of Virginia's letter is available at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20030813-Farmville-Poltical-Sign-Ordinance.pdf.

Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022 Rebecca K. Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022

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