The ACLU of Massachusetts and law firm Prince Lobel today announced a victory in a lawsuit challenging the City of Holyoke’s ordinance prohibiting “temporary” lawn signs on private property in the city during winter months and prohibiting bumper stickers all year-round.
The federal district court in Springfield today declared the ordinance unconstitutional, and issued a permanent injunction against the City from enforcing it. The judgment prohibits the City from passing or enforcing any similar ordinance in the future.
“Exercise of free speech is fundamental to our democracy,” said Ruth Bourquin, senior attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “We hope other communities, including others in Western Massachusetts, take notice and review their ordinances for unconstitutional restrictions. Courts across the nation have affirmed that people have a right to express personal political views through signs displayed on their property. All residents should be free to express their opinions on important political issues without fear of censorship from their community.”
On October 16, the Holyoke City Council – over the veto of Mayor Alex Morse – amended the City’s sign ordinance to regulate “temporary signs” on residential and commercial properties in the months of December, January, and February of each year in any location within the City. The amendments also purported to prohibit “temporary signs” on vehicles, including bumper stickers, year-round. In proposing the amendments to the sign ordinance, a city councilor expressly stated that the ban on lawn signs is meant to emphasize the finite nature of political campaigns. Yet, the First Amendment allows for free speech on political issues all year round.
The lawsuit was filed in November on behalf of seven Massachusetts residents who have or want to post signs on their lawns or bumper stickers on their cars, and would be prevented from displaying these if the City enforced the sign ordinance. The signs include “Black Lives Matter” and “All Are Welcome” – as well as campaign and holiday signs. The lawsuit was filed by Bourquin, Jeff Pyle of Prince Lobel, and Bill Newman of Lesser Newman Aleo & Nasser.
Today’s final ruling comes after the court granted a motion for preliminary injunction on November 28, initially blocking enforcement of the sign ordinance.