ACLU Challenges Town of Hancock on Political Sign Restriction

A July 3 Herald-Mail Media article reported that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is challenging a recently passed charter amendment by the Town of Hancock that would prohibit the posting of political signs on private property prior to January 2.

Deborah Jeon, legal director of the Maryland ACLU, said the organization sent a letter of opposition to the town on behalf of former Hancock Councilman Nigel Dardar.

Jeon said Dardar and the ACLU believe an amendment to the charter that bans campaign signs on private property before Jan. 2 is against the law.  …

Hancock Town Manager David Smith said the town changed the charter, because officials believed the signs caused clutter during Christmas season.  …

Smith said he believed the town wasn’t violating the free speech of political candidates, because they still would be able to campaign in other ways during the Christmas holiday.

The ACLU’s letter cites several prior legal decisions striking down such restrictions, including a Baltimore County case, Bell v. Baltimore County.

“Like Hancock’s Charter amendment, Baltimore County’s law barred residents from posting political campaign signs on their private property beyond a limited window of time surrounding the election,” the letter reads. “Judge Catherine Blake found the regulation to be an ‘unconstitutional durational limit on political residential signs.'”

The letter further states that “a restriction on the amount of time a political campaign sign may be displayed on private property restricts the First Amendment rights of both the resident and the candidate.”

The charter amendment also required that political signs be taken down within 72 hours after an election.  Dardar and the ACLU are not challenging the 72-hour takedown requirement.