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Schwab v. Town of Essex (Challenging local ordinance prohibiting political lawn signs)

This case raises the question of whether a law adopted by the Town of Essex restricting the use of political signs on front lawns violates the First Amendment. The Town of Essex adopted a zoning law in June 2003 that states that temporary signs for “a political campaign…may be erected no more than 30 days prior to the event and shall be removed by the sponsor within 7 days after the close of the event.” Violation of this law may result in criminal penalties and civil fines of up to $100 per day. The Town of Essex recently began enforcing this ordinance, requiring the removal of political yards signs installed by homeowners in advance of the 2004 presidential election. The NYCLU filed a suit on Sept. 23, 2004 challenging the Essex ordinance as a violation of both the First Amendment and Article 1, section 8 of the New York State Constitution. The NYCLU then secured an agreement from the Town to suspend the ordinance for the 10 days between Sept. 23 and Oct. 2, allowing signs to be kept up through the November 2004 election.

In March 2005, the NYCLU moved for summary judgment seeking to enjoin the local ordinance. Oral argument was heard on July 21, 2005. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe issued a bench order granting the NYCLU’s motion for summary judgment, striking down the Essex sign ordinance and directing defendants to pay plaintiffs’ attorney fees. The defendants did not appeal the decision. 

N.D.N.Y., Index No. 04 Civ. 1109 (direct) 

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