PORTLAND – Today, the United States District Court for the District of Maine declared that a Portland ordinance that prohibits anyone from standing on a median strip for any reason but planting political campaign signs, including for all other forms of protected free-speech activity, is unconstitutional. The challenge to the ordinance was brought on behalf of two activists, who have a long history of standing on median strips holding political issue signs, and a young woman who stands on medians asking for personal financial assistance.
“Today’s decision is an important victory for freedom of speech, and for all people who use public spaces to communicate with their fellow citizens,” said Zachary Heiden, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maine. “The First Amendment protects all of us, no matter what views we hold or how much money we make.”
Portland sought to defend its ordinance as necessary to protect the public safety of pedestrians and drivers. The Court agreed that protecting public safety is very important, but it rejected the city’s argument that this ordinance is necessary to accomplish that goal.
“Ordinances like this have been appearing all over the country, but most courts have agreed that they are far too burdensome on the fundamental right to free expression,” said Kevin Martin, a lawyer with Goodwin Procter, who together with his colleagues Michal Herzfeld, Joshua Daniels, Timothy Bazzle and Brian Burgess brought the case in cooperation with the ACLU of Maine. “Towns and cities that are considering these ordinances need to know that courts are going to very closely scrutinize their justification and scope.”
Portland had voluntarily agreed to cease enforcement of the ordinance pending the outcome of the litigation. Today’s decision permanently enjoins enforcement.
A copy of the Court’s decision can be found here.