Campaign signs and free speech

While some poor sap sits in the pokey, arrested for lifting political signs from the Lake Avenue rotary Friday night, I’ve been wondering whether he’s committed any crime at all. The signs themselves are private property and, posted on someone’s front yard, don’t lose that status. But what if private property is left on  public land? The DOT routinely confiscates signs planted on state right of ways, so what’s to stop a citizen from doing the same thing?

I see a couple of arguments available to this incarcerated poacher. One might be abandonment; if you leave your chattel on public land, have you abandoned all claims to title? Stronger, perhaps, is the same free speech rights the posters claim: you put up your “Farricker for Selectman” sign as an act of political speech, I remove it with the same intention. What’s the difference?

I’d put this to the test but, at least right now, I’m busy with other things.


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7 responses to “Campaign signs and free speech

  1. anon

    I find the number of political signs around town offensive. They are ugly, and honestly, I am not going to vote for somebody purely because I saw a sign with their name on it.

    Can’t we pass a law banning them, similar to how it is illegal for realtors to post “For Sale” signs in front of a house in Greenwich?

    • christopherfountain

      Anon, the Supreme Court sees a distinction between political speech and commercial speech (I disagree, but I’m not on the Supreme Court so big deal), which is why commercial realtor signs can be regulated but political signs cannot. (Your are free, under our ordinance, to put up your own for sale” sign, because the town wasn’t confident they could prevent a private homeowner from doing so).
      I think the political signs are silly – who on earth would change his mind and vote for a candidate because he saw a sign with the guy’s name on it?) but it gives political parties a way to divert the energies of their dumbest, eager supporters who would be dangerous working at headquarters or calling voters and it’s a temporary plague – all gone by next week. We can all live with that, but ‘d like to see and end to the signs pushing dating services, oriental rug auctions and gold buyers, all illegal, obnoxious and long-lasting.

  2. Rene Anselmo

    I am rolling in my grave. Bad enough they arrested me for helping the Highway Dept clean up “abandoned” Realtor’s “For Sale” signs.

    Should have thought of the “free speech” angle myself. But how is my taking away a Lavery sign “free” or “speech.” It seems to be more in the civil dis-obedience category. And who’s Tod anyway?

  3. Contrarian

    I don’t think free speech involves putting signs on public property. Drive through Stamford,, and you will find the majority of signs are in people’s yards. It was really Ed Krumeich who started putting multiple signs in the rotaries in 2006 that started this most recent wave of signage.

    A series of signs placed in neighbors’ yards represents a measure of support. A bunch of signs placed in a public traffic island only represents a single supporter (or a paid supporter) with free time on their hands.

  4. GideonFountain

    Ok, I guess now is a good time to confess: I have removed and destroyed DOZENS of those “Work At Home” signs which are often attached 10 or more feet up telephone poles with industrial-strength staples. I recognize that suckers who fall for such scams deserve no protection but I am offended by the sight of these repulsive placards.

  5. pulled up in OG

    Meanwhile, the town is the worst offender . . . 24/7/365. Stand in front of Perrot, I bet you count twenty+ municipal signs. Same mess all over town.

  6. Chief Sachem

    Memory tell me FF was candidate for First Selectman. So those signs for Selectman actually lose him election.

    Great Spirit smile on your so-called democratic system. Lin lose contest, must serve in office two years with no pay.