The power to limit the display of campaign signs is not unlimited – Shaw Local

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A recent weekend of camping in the drift-free region of southwestern Wisconsin was refreshing for many reasons, but with an eye on Illinois, the road offered views of entirely different country signs than the ones we let’s see baseball teams follow in the suburbs.

Outside of the gubernatorial race and the U.S. Senate campaign, I have very little idea who’s running for what in the Badger State, which means a lot less gut reaction and more room for thinking about design, placement and expression. This brought up reader Debby Faust’s email referencing a 1994 United States Supreme Court opinion, City of Ladue, Missouri v. Gilleo:

“This decision gave property owners the right to post signs with minimal interference from the city. My concern is that many condo owners may want to voice their opinion on the upcoming election by posting signs or banners in their space (windows of course; rarely outdoors).

“My condo’s rules and regulations prohibit it – and apparently virtually every condo association has a similar rule, which my contact with our property management group says has never been challenged that they’ve ever heard of – A condo board’s First Amendment problem?It seems there’s no chance for a fix until November.

According to a case history summary from the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University (mtsu.edu/first-amendment), a St. Louis suburb told Margaret Gilleo in December 1990 that she could not have a sign in his yard opposing the war in the Persian Gulf. Ladue later objected to a smaller Gilleo sign placed in a bedroom window. Although the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said the problem was that the ordinance allowed things like real estate signs and not ones that presented an opinion, the Supreme Court’s opinion focused on the limits of expression of the city.

Ladue “almost completely excluded a venerable medium that is both unique and important. He has totally banned this medium for political, religious or personal messages,” Judge John Paul Stevens wrote in the unanimous opinion. “Even for the better-off, the additional costs in money or time of placing an advertisement in a newspaper, handing out leaflets in the street, or standing in front of one’s house with a hand-held sign can make the difference between participating and not participating in a public debate.

Condominium and landlord associations can be more restrictive than municipal codes, but Illinois condominium ownership law prohibits rules that violate the First Amendment. Time-based policies (days before and after an election) are usually successful, and the HOA can always quibble about the extent of property rights (yard and house design restrictions are common), but place something to the inside of your own window must be completely protected.

I’m no lawyer, but it seems Illinois has just enough sanctuary here for speech.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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