Is Speaking Out on Eminent Domain Abuses a Protected Form of Speech Under the First Amendment?

We noted a while back that in St. Louis, the municipal authories banned the posting of a sign protesting abuses of the power of eminent domain. Here it is:

Originally, our reaction was to suppose that this bizarre municipal effort would have a half-life of a fruit fly, since it was obviously a violation of the First Amendment freedom of speech provision. Right? Wrong! Not so clear, as it turned out.

The U.S. District Court in St. Louis agreed with the city and upheld the municipal ban. Which left your faithful servant shaking his head in bewilderment. That meant that under the benign umbrella of the First Amendment you are free to violate a federal statute and falsely claim to be a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, you can harass the grieving family of a fallen soldier at his funeral, publish a supposedly humorous piece about an asserted sex act between a revered religious leader and his mother (in an outhouse, yet), march through Skokie, Illinois, calling for ethnically-based mass murder, etc., etc. But you couldn’t put up a sign whose content dealt with an ongoing, important public dispute that has been very much in the public eye. Sheesh!

Fortunately, this story has had a happy ending. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit just reversed that wrongheaded trial court decision, holding that the provisions of the offending ordinance were content based (it allowed other signs based on their contest), which made its pertinent provisions unconstitutional. Whew! See Neighborhood Enterprises v. City of St. Louis, No. 10-1937, opinion filed July 13, 2011.

For a link to the opinion go to today’s post on

Congratulations to the folks at the Institute for Justice who handled that case for the owner of the property displaying this sign.