A Free Speech Win In Saint Louis
St. Louis resident Jim Roos, in front of the offending sign. Photo by the Institute for Justice.
Good news for Saint Louisans: That “End Eminent Domain Abuse” sign that you can see at the intersection of Hwys. 44 and 55 is here to stay. In a partial free speech victory, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of a circuit court ruling that struck down portions of Saint Louis City’s sign code for violating the free speech clause of the First Amendment.
For those of us in the Midwest, this is great news. This means that government cannot regulate signs and murals based on their content. And, as a result, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the offending portion of the city’s zoning code may have to be rewritten.
This is also a meaningful victory for anti-eminent domain activists in Saint Louis. Jim Roos, the plaintiff (pictured above), has had more than his fair share of struggles with city government. Using eminent domain, the city took 24 different properties from Sanctuary in the Ordinary, or managed by Neighborhood Enterprises, a nonprofit that provides low-income housing that Roos founded.
In protest, Roos painted the large “End Eminent Domain Abuse” sign on another property threatened with eminent domain. As a result, the city hit Roos with a citation, and said that a permit was required. He applied for a permit, only to be denied. We wrote about this issue in 2011, in a post aptly titled, “Using Your Property to Criticize Us for Taking Your Property? You’d Better Believe That’s Illegal.”
Fortunately, Roos and the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit libertarian public interest law firm, continued to challenge the city’s zoning code, leading to the partial free speech victory today.
Those of us in the 8th Circuit (Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) can take solace in knowing that our First Amendment rights are a little more secure. However, as Michael Bindas, the Institute for Justice attorney who represents Roos, pointed out, “Unfortunately, citizens in some other federal circuits do not enjoy the same protections that Jim’s case secured.”
Hopefully this case will help give victims of eminent domain abuse the courage to stand up and complain about it. Of course, the best victory for property owners would be for laws that allow eminent domain abuse to be repealed.