Ladue (City of) v. Gilleo 512 U.S. 43 (1994)

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LADUE (CITY OF) v. GILLEO 512 U.S. 43 (1994)

For communities seeking order and stability, political speech is often disruptive and disquieting. In recent years, private homeowners associations and public municipalities have sought to preserve order and aesthetic values by prohibiting political signs and placards from public display on lawns and from windows of homes. The Supreme Court held one such effort, by the City of Ladue in Missouri, to be an unconstitutional infringement of the freedom of speech.

Ladue banned homeowners from posting on their property signs other than "for sale" and identification signs. Margaret Gilleo, who wished to post a small sign advocating a peaceful resolution to the gulf war, challenged the municipal ordinance as violative of the first amendment. Justice john paul stevens, writing for a unanimous Court, invalidated the law, reasoning that political signs on residential property were a "venerable means of communication" important for political campaigns and for "animat[ing] change in the life of a community."

The Court rejected the city's argument that the ban was essential to avoid "visual blight and clutter" and was justifiable as a "time, place or manner" restriction. Commercial signs also created visual clutter, and even if content neutral the ban foreclosed a vehicle of political speech for which persons of "modest means" had "no practical substitute." Residential signs, the Court explained, were too important a feature of American political culture to be prohibited absent truly compelling reasons.

Adam Winkler