The Seventh Circuit recently upheld a local ordinance in Grande Chute, Wisconsin that banned all private signs on public rights-of-way despite challenges from a local labor union.
In 2014, the town of Grande Chute passed a zoning ordinance that banned all private signs on public rights-of-way. Under the authority of the zoning ordinance, two town officials ordered a local chapter of the Construction and General Laborers’ Union to remove the labor union’s large, 12-foot inflatable rat, which, like other unions across the country, had become a longstanding feature of the Union’s strike tactics. Specifically, the Union had placed the inflatable rat in a median across from a car dealership that it was targeting.
The Union challenged the ordinance in federal court, arguing that the ordinance violated the Union’s free speech rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Union argued that the ordinance was a content-based restriction, claiming that the town was targeting the Union while simultaneously allowing signs by local churches and business.
On appeal, the Seventh Circuit acknowledged that, while the ordinance was neutral on its face, the town could still be liable for a First Amendment violation if it enforced the rule unevenly. However, the Seventh Circuit concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that the town had engaged in such uneven enforcement. As such, the Seventh Circuit upheld that the district court’s summary judgment order in favor of the town.
It will interesting to see if other local towns and cities pass similar ordinances banning signs or inflatable objects on or near public rights-of-way. If so, this could surely deflate one of the most prominent strike tactics used by labor unions across the country.