September 10, 2003

ACLU sought removal of ordinance prohibiting signs more than 20 days before election

After being warned by the ACLU that a two-year-old ordinance prohibiting the placement of campaign signs on private property more than 20 days before an election is unconstitutional, Culpeper Town Council last night agreed not to enforce the ordinance and to take action in the near future to amend or repeal it.
The ACLU faxed a letter to the Culpeper Town Council on Monday, September 8, explaining that the ordinance violated the free speech provisions of the First Amendment and asking the Council to take immediate corrective action. The ACLU also offered to legal representation to any candidate or resident of Culpeper wanted to mount a legal challenge to the ordinance.
In August, Farmville announced that it would impose a similar ordinance on political signs. After the ACLU intervened on behalf of political candidate, Farmville issued a new interpretation of its sign ordinance, indicating that it did not apply to non-commercial signs on private property. In 2001, Norton also attempted to impose time restrictions on campaign signs. It repealed its ordinance after ACLU intervention.
The ACLU of Virginia now plans to contact every political jurisdiction in Virginia before the end of this week to warn them against enforcing ordinances that place time limits on political signs on private property.
“We don’t know how many jurisdictions have these ordinances, but with elections coming up soon they should be aware that time limits on campaign signs on private property violate the free speech rights of candidates and voters alike,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis.
“Our right to express our views, particularly on political matters, on our own property is as about as basic as you can get in a free democracy,” added Willis. “The Supreme Court and numerous lower courts have made this absolutely clear. This is not a matter of simply lengthening the time before an election that citizens may erect signs. Whether it is one week or one-year, it is unconstitutional. Local jurisdictions may not set time limits at all on political signs on private property, period.”
“We are pleased that local government officials have, so far, changed their ordinances once we have brought the problem to their attention,” said Willis. “We are very interested in hearing from people anywhere in the state where these types of ordinances exist.”

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022