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Central New York — Chapter Challenges Cortland Restrictions on Political Signs

Chapter Challenges Cortland Restrictions on Political Signs

The Central New York Chapter is challenging a Cortland zoning ordinance that places unconstitutional restrictions on people’s ability to place political signs on their property.

Prior to the Sept. 13 primary elections, the chapter was contacted both by Cortland residents and political candidates with concerns about the sign ordinance, which bars homeowners from displaying more than one temporary sign on their property unless they obtain a permit from the Fire Department for $10. Those who violate the ordinance are subject to $250 fine.

In a Sept. 2 letter to city officials, the NYCLU explained that the U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that candidate yard signs are a “unique medium of core political speech at the heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to free expression.” It cited a series of case law showing that limiting people to one yard sign imposes impermissible burdens on the free speech rights of homeowners and candidates for office.

The chapter has asked city officials to stop enforcing the permit requirement and to revise the ordinance to remove unconstitutional restrictions on speech.

Chapter Director Barrie Gewanter is working with city officials concerning the issue. Gewanter explained the NYCLU’s concerns in a Sept. 6 address to the Cortland City Council.

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