As we near another spring season, we will begin to see political yard signs popping up along with the new season’s flowers. With those will come the usual complaints about the sight of them, and the calls of “there ought to be a law about when and where those can go.” We are reminded, however, that it is not so simple as just passing a law to prohibit those signs.
A federal judge yesterday blocked the enforcement of a sign ordinance in South Park Township, a suburb of Pittsburgh. According to reports, the ACLU had sued the township, alleging that the ordinance unconstitutionally limited freedom of speech, by prohibiting a resident from displaying a political sign in his yard more than thirty days prior to an election.
There does seem to be some question about whether the ordinance applies to private yards or only to publicly owned areas like street rights-of-way. However, if the ordinance in fact does apply to private property, then I would suspect that the ACLU will prevail in its claim that an outright ban is unconstitutional.
That is not to say that a municipality may not regulate signs to a certain extent. But a complete prohibition, especially with political signs since political speech is protected by the first amendment as much as anything, will not be possible. We will see what happens once the case ultimately is decided, but I suspect that the temporary prohibition on the enforcement of this ordinance may become permanent.