Lawn Campaign Signs in Baltimore County

by Professor Byron L. Warnken on July 9, 2010

I’m taking a break from my 2 post series on the 2nd amendment to talk about something hot in the Baltimore County news…

One thing that makes our country great is the First Amendment.  We have the right to speak our mind.  In theory, the “marketplace of ideas” will regular us, rather than having the Government regulate us.  Under the First Amendment, I may disagree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to say those things with which I disagree.  And as for the Government, under the First Amendment, we do not want the Government to tell us what we can and cannot say.

Under certain very limited circumstances, the Government may regulate speech when, but only when, there is a compelling governmental interest in such regulation.  For example, we cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theatre.  Moreover, such limited regulation of speech may not be “content based,” and any regulation must be narrowly tailored to that compelling governmental interest.

Political lawn signs are pure speech and are protected by the First Amendment.  In fact, courts have held that free speech, in the form of lawn signs, protect the First Amendment interest of both the homeowner and the candidate.

Recently, three Baltimore County homeowners have complained that County officials have made them take down their lawn signs or, in some way, interfered with their lawn signs.  All three homeowners stated that they had signs supporting Bob Ehlich for Governor.  I have no idea (1) whether these complaints are correct; (2) if correct, whether the conduct complained of can be attributed to County personnel; and (3) if the conduct can be attributed to County personnel, whether it represents the policy of the County Government or whether the conduct is that of one or more rogue employees.  My guess is that one, two, or three of these items is not correct.  Of course, if all three of these items are correct, then there has been a violation of the homeowners’ and the candidate’s First Amendment rights and a violation of federal election laws.

{ 1 comment }

Eric Kihn August 30, 2010 at 11:43 am

Today I received a violation for the sign on my lawn. I am supporting Todd Huff who is running against Bryan McIntire. McIntire lives around the corner from me and probably passes my house everyday. I called code enforcement and they did confirm that the complaint came from McIntire’s office.
Talk about putting a size limit on first amendment rights. My fight is not over.

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