ACLU Wins First Round in Cincinnati Area Sign Cases
Citizens in two Cincinnati suburbs will be able to voice their support for the candidates of their choice in time for next week’s election, thanks to emergency federal civil rights lawsuits filed by the ACLU. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation prevailed in the first round of litigation against two Cincinnati area suburbs Friday, when United States District Judge Susan Dlott issued temporary restraining orders prohibiting Indian Hill and Mariemont from enforcing their bans on the display of political yard signs. The orders were issued Friday afternoon by Judge Dlott in Cincinnati, after the ACLU sought emergency relief on behalf of clients in both suburbs. “This is a victory for the First Amendment, and a warning to other towns that political Free Expression takes precedence over some vague notion of aesthetics, especially in an election year,” said Raymond Vasvari, Legal Director of the ACLU of Ohio, in a prepared statement.
The temporary restraining orders will allow residents to display political yard signs throughout the remainder of the election season, and will expire at the end of this year. If the ordinances are not repealed by then, the ACLU will ask the Court to issue a new, final order, permanently striking down the bans as unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court struck down a similar ordinance in Missouri in 1994, making it unlikely that a ban on political signs could survive a First Amendment challenge in the courts.
In related news, the Ohio ACLU will file a third lawsuit against this afternoon, against Doylestown, Ohio, a village in Wayne County, which bans the display of political signs except during a narrow period immediately before and after election day. According to Christine Link, Executive Director of the ACLU of Ohio, courts have been highly critical of even such limited bans on political signs: “The Ohio Supreme Court struck down a very similar law in Painesville, Ohio just last month, and most the great majority of federal courts to rule on such time limits have found them to be unconstitutional.” The ACLU is also defending Lindell V. Riddle, a Mayfield Heights man brought up on charges earlier this month for the “crime” of displaying two yard signs in favor of the same judicial candidate. The ACLU will seek to have the charges dismissed on First Amendment grounds.