Editor's note: On Sept. 27, U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe refused to grant an injunction to block an Essex ordinance restricting the display of political yard signs until 30 days before Election Day. The Associated Press reported that Sharpe said the NYCLU had failed to show there would be irreparable harm without an injunction or a likelihood of success if the case were to proceed. The judge agreed with the town that the matter was moot because once residents are notified they are violating the sign law, they have 10 days to comply. Ten days from Sept. 27 would be 27 days from Election Day within the period the local law permits political signs. Town Supervisor Ronald Jackson said that while he was pleased with Sharpe's ruling, Essex would likely abolish the sign law because the town cannot afford to continue defending it in court.
ESSEX, N.Y. A quiet Adirondack town that boasts Gov. George Pataki as one of its part-time residents has come under fire from civil libertarians, who claim a local law restricting the display of political signs violates the First Amendment.
Since June 2003, the town of Essex, along the shore of Lake Champlain, has enforced a law that prohibits people from posting political yard signs until 30 days before Election Day.
But in a letter sent to Town Supervisor Ronald Jackson, New York Civil Liberties Union attorney Beth Haroules charged the law violates residents’ constitutional right to free speech.
“A political yard sign is a classic example of the core political speech that is at the heart of the First Amendment,” Haroules wrote, adding the town has “foreclosed a venerable means of communication that is both unique and important.”
Haroules’ letter comes a week after Stuart Brody, chairman of the state’s Democratic Rural Conference and a town resident, complained about the law. Brody’s complaint caught the ear of Alice Green, an Albany-area social activist who notified the NYCLU.
“The law is extremely vague,” said Green, a Pataki critic who owns a home in Essex down the road from the Republican governor’s farmhouse.
The town plans to discuss the issue at its Sept. 9 meeting, but in the meantime, will continue to enforce the law, under which violators can be fined up to $100.
“We can discuss changing the law,” Jackson said. “But I’m concerned about how much time this is taking away from other things we need to be doing in the town.”