Federal Court: You Can Fight City Hall and Win
Last Wednesday, a Federal Appeals Court in St. Louis held Jim Roos, a local property owner, had the right to paint a large mural on the side of his building, despite city ordinances to the contrary.
What did the 360 square foot sign, which was visible from two interstates, say?
“End Eminent Domain Abuse”
Roos, a member of the Missouri Eminent Domain Abuse Commission, had been fighting the city since 2007, when he painted the sign to protest aggressive land-taking by the city government of St. Louis.
The initial ruling from the district court held that the city ordinance was content-neutral and therefore acceptable on its face, and Mr. Roos’ work was a “classic example” of a sign.
However, the panel of the appeals court found that the ordinance did discriminate based on content, and that it was not supported by a compelling state interest. Thus, Mr. Roos is protected by the first amendment, and the sign may stay up.
This ruling is encouraging for multiple reasons. First, it tells property-owners that city governments may not normally impose content-specific rules on how they can exercise their first amendment rights using their own property. Also, it sends a message to governments that if they try to use local laws to silence activists fighting their abuse of eminent domain, courts will intervene.
Either way, this ruling is a victory for liberty.