Ga. couple: Mayor had pickup impounded over political sign

Friday, May 13, 2011

A couple in Jackson, Ga., claims their First Amendment rights were violated when the town’s mayor allegedly ordered their truck impounded for carrying a political sign.

Deborah and Ronald Moon allege that in October 2010, they parked their pickup truck in an open and public area in Jackson as they were headed to church. Their truck displayed a political sign in its bed supporting Austin Scott, a Republican running for the U.S. House of Representatives.

After leaving church, the Moons looked for their truck but could not find it. They learned that it had been towed to a city impound lot. The police department vehicle release forms indicated that Mayor Charles Brown had ordered the truck impounded “immediately because it had political signs.”

In their complaint in Moon v. Brown, the couple alleges that “Defendants censored the Moons’ campaign sign explicitly because of its political content and its viewpoint supporting a Republican candidate.”

The lawsuit, filed on May 10, further alleges that “the retaliatory targeting of the Moons’ sign because of its political content and its partisan viewpoint cannot survive strict scrutiny.”

Gerry Weber, the Atlanta-based civil rights attorney representing the Moons, says that “the mayor’s dirty politics was a clear violation of the First Amendment” and that “politicians can’t pick and choose who citizens can publicly support.”

Weber said he didn’t know the size of the sign, but it but it fit in the bed of the pickup.

“We were shocked,” Ron Moon said in a news release. “The fact that an elected official would so blatantly abuse the power of his office to impact an election is alarming and should concern everyone.”

A call placed to city officials was not returned.

More information is needed to evaluate the lawsuit from a First Amendment perspective. If the city was simply following a rule or policy that limits signs larger than a certain size, then perhaps the actions were constitutional and content-neutral — not discriminating on the basis of what the sign said.

If, however, the policy singles out political signs, then it would be content-based and presumptively unconstitutional.

Even worse, if the mayor ordered the truck impounded because he did not like the particular sign in question, that would constitute stark viewpoint discrimination — what the U.S. Supreme Court has called “an egregious form of content discrimination.”

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