A federal district court in New York has prohibited the Village of Scarsdale, New York, from removing political signs from the front lawn of residents. The court reasoned that “the Village may not indefinitely foreclose such a historically important means of expression for its residents.”
Robert J. Berg challenged the village’s ordinance which provides that residents may not “obstruct any street, public easement or other public place without first securing a written permit from the Village Engineer and complying” with other regulations established by the engineer. The village interpreted its ordinance to apply to paved roads and thirteen feet on each side of paved roads. This includes the front yards of many residents.
Berg contended that this ordinance infringed on his right to engage in political speech. U.S. District Judge Nelson S. Roman granted Berg’s request for an order preventing the Village from enforcing the ordinance.
Judge Roman reasoned in Berg v. Village of Scarsdale (Feb. 6, 2018) that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in City of Ladue v. Gilleo (1994) controlled. In that decision, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated an Ohio city’s ban on residential yard signs.
The Village of Scarsdale pointed out that its ordinance was not a complete ban on political yard signs but that it required residents to apply for a permit. However, the village’s ordinance did not impose a time limitation for Village officials to rule on the sign permit request. Furthermore, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Lusk v. Village of Cold Spring (2007) invalidated a similar ordinance that required prior approval of signs that could take up to 70 days to resolve.
Judge Roman wrote that the Village of Scarsdale’s ordinance “constitutes a near complete foreclosure of an important means of communication.” He enjoined the Village from enforcing the ordinance as long as the “political lawn signs pose no safety or traffic hazards.”
The judge’s decision is important, because residents should be able to convey their political views through yard signs – a venerable and traditional means of expression.