Eye on Illinois: Power to limit display of campaign signs isn’t unlimited

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A recent weekend camping trip to the driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin was refreshing for many reasons, but with an Eye on Illinois the drive afforded views of entirely different campaign signs than the ones we see following baseball teams around the suburbs.

Outside of the governor’s race and U.S. Senate campaign, I have very little idea who is running for what in the Badger State, which means far fewer visceral reactions and more room for thought about design, placement and expression. That brought reader Debby Faust’s email referencing a 1994 U.S. Supreme Court opinion, city of Ladue (Missouri) versus Gilleo:

“This decision gave owners the right to post signs with minimal interference from the city. My concern is that many condo owners may want to express opinions about the upcoming elections by posting signs or banners in space they own (windows for sure; rarely outside).

“My condo’s rules and regulations forbid it – and apparently practically all condo associations have a similar rule, that, according to my contact with our property management group, has never been challenged that they have ever heard of – a condo board’s First Amendment problem? There seems to be no chance for a fix before November.”

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland

According to a case history summary form the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University (mtsu.edu/first-amendment), a St. Louis suburb told Margaret Gilleo in December 1990 she couldn’t have a sign in her yard opposing war in the Persian Gulf. Ladue later objected to a smaller sign Gilleo placed in a bedroom window. Although the Eighth Circuit Appeals Court said the problem was the ordinance allowed things like real estate signs and not those presenting opinion, the Supreme Court opinion focused on the city’s limits on expression.

Ladue “almost completely foreclosed a venerable means of communication that is both unique and important. It has totally foreclosed that medium to political, religious, or personal messages,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the unanimous opinion. “Even for the affluent, the added costs in money or time of taking out a newspaper advertisement, handing out leaflets on the street, or standing in front of one’s house with a hand-held sign may make the difference between participating and not participating in some public debate.”

Condo and homeowner associations can be more restrictive than municipal codes, but the Illinois Condominium Property Act prohibits rules that violate the First Amendment. Policies based on time (days before and after an election) generally pass muster, and the HOA can always quibble about how far property rights extend (yard and house design restrictions are common), but placing something inside your own window should be completely protected.

I’m no lawyer, but it seems here Illinois has just enough speech sanctuary.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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October 23, 2022 at 06:09AM

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