PITTSBURGH - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania announced today that it had settled a federal lawsuit filed last week challenging South Park Township's law limiting residents' right to display campaign signs on their own property. In the settlement order signed late last night by the court, the Township agreed to amend its laws to remove a restriction that limited the display of campaign signs to thirty days before and five days after an election, and to eliminate permit and bond requirements.
"We're glad that South Park has recognized that homeowners' free-speech rights don't come and go with the election season," said Witold "Vic" Walczak, the ACLU of Pennsylvania's Legal Director.
The First Amendment lawsuit was filed in U. S. District Court in Pittsburgh on February 19 on behalf of Dr. Joseph P. Rudolph, a South Park homeowner who wants to place campaign signs on his lawn in advance of Pennsylvania's April 22nd Presidential primary and the November general election. That same day, U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster issued an emergency order blocking South Park from enforcing its restrictions until he could hold a hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, February 27. The hearing has been cancelled in light of the settlement.
"I am pleased that freedom of speech has been preserved in South Park," Dr. Rudolph said upon being told about the settlement.
Dr. Rudolph was first threatened by the Township with fines, court costs and attorneys fees in March 2007 when he put up a lawn sign in support of his son's candidacy for district magistrate. At that time, the ACLU-PA advised South Park that the ordinance was unconstitutional and provided township officials with relevant Supreme Court decisions to support that assertion. Although South Park agreed at the time to suspend enforcement of the law, in October 2007 the Township advised Dr. Rudolph that it would continue to enforce the ban.
Walczak noted that since filing the case last week the ACLU has received calls from homeowners around the state about similar restrictions on campaign signs in other towns. Walczak warned communities with restrictive sign laws, "The First Amendment makes speech free, but the lawsuits needed to vindicate those rights come with an expensive attorneys' fees price tag."
The case is Rudolph v Township of South Park,2-08-cv-234 (W.D. Pa.). Copies of the pleadings and the consent order signed late on February 25 by Judge Lancaster are available here.