Supervisors must suspend ordinance or face litigation from civil liberties group

Botetourt County, VA -- The ACLU of Virginia today urged Botetourt County government officials to immediately suspend -- then repeal -- an ordinance that prohibits residents from having campaign signs in their yards more than 60 days in advance of an election or more than 15 days afterwards. The ACLU is prepared to go to court to have the ordinance declared unconstitutional.
"Campaign signs in front yards are as much a part of the American political landscape as newspaper editorials, stump speeches and blogs," said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. "The main purpose of the First Amendment is to guarantee to all citizens the right to express their political views. A local government that prevents homeowners from posting campaign signs in their own front yards whenever they wish has severely eroded the free speech rights of its residents."
In the letter to the Botetourt County Administrator and the Chair of the Board of Supervisors, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg writes that the ordinance violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment:
The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that a political lawn sign is a “venerable means of communication that is both unique and important. . . . . Signs that react to a local happening or express a view on a controversial issue both reflect and animate change in the life of a community.” City of Ladue v. Gilleo,  512 U.S. 43, 54 (1994). Moreover, “[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.” Id. at 57.
Similar ordinances in Farmville, Norton, and Culpeper have come under ACLU scrutiny in recent years. In each of those jurisdictions, government officials ultimately repealed the time restrictions on campaign signs.
Glenberg’s letter is written on behalf of Jim Fain, Chair of the Botetourt County Democratic Committee. In late February, Fain received notice from the County Administrator asking him to assist the County in ensuring compliance with the sign ordinance.
The text of Glenberg’s letter is available at the following link: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20080320-Botetourt-Sign-Ordinance.pdf.

Contacts: Kent Willis or Rebecca Glenberg, (office) 804/644-8022

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