Court Upholds Ordinance Banning Signs From Wisconsin Freeway Overpass

Gregory Luce and Nicholas Newman, two members of the local Tea Party, placed  banners bearing messages such as “HONK TO IMPEACH OBAMA” on a pedestrian overpass in Wisconsin.  After receiving complaints, the local municipal legislature enacted an ordinance forbidding all signs, flags, and banners (other than traffic-control information) on certain overpasses, or within 100 feet of the end of the structures.  Luce and Newman sued, claiming the ordinance violated their First Amendment rights.

MJS overpass05.jpg

The Seventh Circuit sided with the municipality, holding that the ordinance was a proper time, place, and manner limit on speech.  Writing for a unanimous panel, Judge Easterbrook explained that the municipality cited a rational reason for regulating: driver safety.  Judge Easterbrook cited studies explaining that drivers are more likely to be distracted by “novel signs directly overhead” as opposed to “[a]dvertising signs well off a freeway.”  He also cited the ordinance’s content neutrality;  it prohibits a “Happy Birthday” sign as much as it does an “Impeach Obama” one.

The court upheld the ordinance as a time, place, and manner regulation, but struck the portion of the ordinance extending the ban up to 100 feet away from the overpass.  The district court will take up that issue on remand.

Case: Luce v. Town of Campbell, No. 15-2627 (7th Cir. Sept. 22, 2017) (opinion here)

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