City's Sign Code Violates First Amendment, Appeals Court Rules


Jim Roos' big ol' sign at Interstates 44 and 55.
  • Jim Roos' big ol' sign at Interstates 44 and 55.
Activist Jim Roos got slapped down in 2007 when he applied for a permit for his huge "End Eminent Domain" mural near Interstates 44 and 55. The city said "No," citing the sign code.

But yesterday, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in turn slapped down the sign code itself, calling it an "impermissible" restriction on free speech.

Read the opinion here.

The judges ruled that, according to city law, "an object of the same dimensions" as Roos' sign "would not be subject to regulation if it were a '[n]ational, state, religious, fraternal, professional and civic symbol or crest....".

Here's the problem with that, according the judges:
That exemption requires government officials to look at something and decide what the message is, then apply the law if they think it's a sign. That would grant officials censorship powers, which would only be justified, under First Amendment case law, in those rare cases where the state shows it has a darned good reason.

In this case, the City gave as its reasons "traffic safety" and "aesthetics." But those reasons just aren't good enough, according to the precedent cited by the judges.

(By the way, this very local matter recently got national attention from conservative commentator George Will; see our blog post here.)

The case has been passed back down to the district court, which will apparently decide if the unconstitutional chunks of the sign code can be removed without having to get rid of the whole law.

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