Nothing is too small to escape the attention of the Speech Police. Matthew LaCorte is a recent high school graduate in the Borough of Woodland Park, New Jersey, who is going to college this fall. Matt is a member of Young Americans for Liberty and a Ron Paul supporter. He wanted to show that support by putting up a Ron Paul 2012 sign on his front lawn.
The next thing Matt knows, Borough officials issued him a warning telling him to take down his Ron Paul sign. When Matt refused, the Borough issued him a ticket for violating an ordinance that says that “[p]olitical signs shall not be posted before thirty (30) days prior to the date of the election to which the sign pertains.”
Matthew is fighting the citation, as well he should. The First Amendment is clearly on Matt’s side. The U.S. Supreme Court in City of Ladue v. Gilleo, 512 U.S. 43 (1994); held that municipalities may not single out political signs for special burdens. And numerous courts across the country have held that cities cannot tell citizens that they can only speak during the few weeks immediately around an election. Indeed, two nearby New Jersey towns had to repeal similar durational restrictions from their books after they were subject to legal challenge.
The First Amendment isn’t something that only exists around Election Day; it protects our freedom of speech 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Woodland Park’s ordinance is blatantly unconstitutional and the Borough should repeal it immediately. After all, it’s relatively easy and cheap for the Borough to take down the law itself. It will be far more expensive for the Borough—both in terms of time and money—to have a court strike down this unconstitutional law.
Used with the permission of the Institute for Justice.