Joe Hornick [of West Long Branch, N.J.,] tells News 12 New Jersey that a police officer who drove by his house last month stopped and issued him a ticket for displaying a political sign more than 30 days before an election.
A borough ordinance does restrict the display of any “[p]olitical sign,” defined to “mean a sign which directs attention to an issue, issues, candidate or candidates for public consideration in an election, including the name of a political party”:
No political sign shall be displayed sooner than thirty (30) days prior to the date of the election or the decision of the issue is scheduled.
Signs shall be removed within five (5) days following said election or date of decision.
But that violates the First Amendment; as Reed v. Town of Gilbert (2015) makes clear, sign laws (and other speech restrictions) that discriminate based on the content of signs — such as by distinguishing signs about ballot issues or candidates from signs about other subjects — are generally unconstitutional. The city may impose some content-neutral speech restrictions that apply equally to all signs (though some such signs have to be allowed, see City of Ladue v. Gilleo (1994)). But it may not impose content-based restrictions such as this.
Thanks to Keith Kaplan for the pointer.
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