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NYCLU Sues Town Of Essex Over Its “Signs” Laws

The New York Civil Liberties Union today has filed suit against the Town of Essex in the United States District Court in Albany challenging its law restricting the use of political signs on front lawns. The action comes after several attempts to discuss the matter with Essex officials and after the NYCLU sent a letter in August urging the Town to rescind the law.

“It is unconstitutional and inappropriate for any government to tell people how they might express their political beliefs,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. ”It is disconcerting that Essex officials would do so at the height of this election season when individuals are most compelled to share their beliefs with their neighbors—and should be able to do so.”

The Town of Essex adopted a zoning law on June 12, 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, 6 month’s imprisonment and civil fines of up to $100 per day.

The NYCLU notes that a political yard sign is a classic example of the core political speech that is at the heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to free expression. It had called upon Essex officials to stop enforcing the law and to change the law to reflect constitutional standards. Essex officials have declined to make any changes.

Along with the lawsuit challenging the Essex ordinance, the NYCLU has asked a federal court for a temporary restraining order against Essex officials for the next 10 days. The end of that period of time will mark 30 days before Election Day, at which time the prohibition on political yard signs in Essex law would be lifted.

Click here to read the NYCLU’s lawsuit.

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