Law of the lawn: ACLU wins injunction against sign ban in Holyoke

  • Attorney William C. Newman, Director of the Western Regional Office of the ACLU of Massachusetts. PAUL FRANZ—FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/16/2019 3:32:06 PM

HOLYOKE — The ACLU of Massachusetts has won a permanent injunction against a recent amendment to the city’s sign ordinance on free speech grounds. 

And now, “We’re calling on all communities in Massachusetts to review their sign ordinances,” said Ruth Bourquin, senior and managing attorney for the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The amendment, passed last fall over the veto of Mayor Alex Morse, forbids temporary signs in the months of December, January and February on both residential and commercial properties. According to the ACLU of Massachusetts, a city councilor said the lawn-sign ban was intended to emphasize the finite nature of political campaigns.

But the change to the law prompted complaints from numerous residents in Holyoke who called the ACLU, said Bill Newman, director of the Western Regional Law Office of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The ACLU then launched a legal case against the city of Holyoke, on behalf of several plaintiffs, with attorneys Newman and Bourquin working alongside cooperating attorney Jeffrey Pyle of the law firm Prince Lobel.

The ACLU got a federal injunction put into place against the ordinance in November, before the ban took effect.

Last Friday, a ruling in federal district court in Springfield by Judge Mark Mastroianni made the injunction permanent, after all parties agreed to a consent judgment.

“People have a right to express themselves politically on their own land,” said Bourquin.

Another element of the ordinance, which was in place before the amendment, forbade any temporary signs on cars.

“I’ve never seen a city ordinance ban bumper stickers,” said Pyle.

Pyle noted, however, that banning bumper stickers might not have been the intent behind that part of the ordinance, which the federal injunction also covers.

Holyoke City Councilor Jossie Valentin wasn’t at the meeting where the amendment to the sign ordinance was passed, but expressed her opposition to it later and voted against overriding the mayor’s veto.

“I knew it was going to be problematic,” said Valentin. “I’m not surprised at this result.”

She also expressed the hope that the council would work with the city’s legal counsel to fix the ordinance.

Pyle said that Holyoke, in coming up with its amendment, looked at the laws of other communities.

And Newman said that, in the wake of the ruling, “It would behoove the cities and towns to review their lawn sign bylaws."

Amherst is one community that currently regulates political signs. The town stipulates that political signs must be put up no earlier than 60 days before an election and taken down within three days after an election. 

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

 




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