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Washington Post: Judge finds District’s rules for hanging political posters unconstitutional

Reprinted from Washington Post

A federal judge on Thursday struck down as unconstitutional the District’s regulations for hanging political signs on lampposts.

U.S. District Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth’s ruling finds that the city’s rules governing how long signs can be posted violate the First Amendment and prevents the District from enforcing the regulations.

In his 58-page opinion, Lamberth “lauds the District for opening its lampposts to political messages” but writes that “once the District opens up public property to political speech, it has a responsibility to be fair, even and precise in its regulations.”

At issue is a long-standing battle between the District and a grass-roots organization that was fined thousands of dollars by the city for failing to promptly remove its posters after an anti-war march it advertised in 2007.

Two groups — the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation — argued that the city’s rules unfairly distinguished between different types of speech and initially favored signs promoting the election of an individual candidate for public office.

Carl Messineo, legal director for the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund that represented the organizations, lauded the decision.

“There’s now one single standard for posting of political signs that no longer discriminates in favor of lawmakers at the risk of potentially bankrupting those who are grass-roots political activists,” Messineo said.

The city’s regulations had for decades distinguished between signs advertising a specific event and those with a general political message. Event-related signs must be removed within 30 days, while general signs may remain up for 180 days.

The office of the D.C. attorney general did not immediately respond to a call for comment.