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

endeminentdomainroos1.jpg
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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6 comments
Ham
Ham

Hoe much money did the city waste on lawyers in the pursuit of supressing free speech? St Louis, what the fuck is wrong with you? I try and stick up for you, but this is the type of shit that makes me want to move to Colorado like everyone else is doing these days.

Lmyatt
Lmyatt

I forget the exact U.S. Supreme Court case, but the Supreme Court previously indicated that First Amendment rights superceded sign ordinances if the sign ordinance interfered with the ability of the homeowner to express him/herself.

jason
jason

By the way, this sign actually means Do NOT End Eminent Domain Abuse (hence the circle with the line through it). If you remove the word End, it would make sense.  The Midwest!

ramv36
ramv36

But them it would make no sense as viewed for the 2.5 seconds you see it from the highway. If you removed the "end" without making the circle and slash more visible from the highway, people would drive by and say "'Eminent domain Abuse', I wonder what that's about?"I had never even seen the sign until I read an article about it, then it was quite easy to spot as you get onto 55 North, you just have to really know where to look.

KITTY
KITTY

It's too bad our gifted author did not include some of his own musings about this story in the article. It would have made a more entertaining read. Levity and Humor rule the day in these kind of events. Soooo, Nick, next time give us something to yuk-it-up about!

I am glad Roos won this latest round in a legal battle that will only benefit the attorneys and no one else. Mayor Slay & Co. pissed away a lot of money for nothing! Never mind the City is broke!

Mike N.
Mike N.

Good call -- I've seen the sign a million times and that never dawned on me!

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