Eminent Domain

Federal Judge: Mural Protesting Government Policies Isn't Protected Political Speech


A federal judge has upheld St. Louis officials' demands that eminent domain opponent Jim Roos remove the mural pictured here, even though it was put up on on a building Roos owns.

In 2007, the city ordered Roos to take the mural down, saying it violated city sign regulations. City code prohibits any sign larger than 30 square feet in that zoning district; Roos' mural is more than 360 square feet.

Roos sued to preserve his mural, arguing that it was not a sign, but a piece of art offering a protected political statement.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Henry Edward Autrey rejected that argument, saying the mural — which features the addresses of two affiliated websites –is a "classic example" of the definition of a sign.

"The painting is outside and is used to advertise, identify, direct and attract attention to what petitioners believe is eminent domain abuse. It advertises online addresses for more information," Autrey wrote. "It attracts attention to the perceived eminent domain abuse."

Autrey also ruled that the city's sign ordinance is constitutional because it is  "content neutral" — restrictions on signs are based on size and place,  not subject.

The prohibition of Roos' mural, the judge wrote, "relates not to the content of petitioners' message but, rather, to the method by which they wish to convey it."

Autrey found that the city's desire to maintain aesthetic appeal and not disrupt traffic was sufficient enough to allow for restrictions on the placement of signs.

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  1. So if he removes the circle and slash and leaves the words he should be fine. It couldn’t be called a sign then.

    Plus, not to nitpick, but those words with a slash through them could be interpretted as DON’T end eminent domain abuse.

    1. My thoughts exactly. It’s like a double negative.

      1. He should paint out “End”.

        1. He should start there, at least, so his sign makes sense for a moment or two before it disappears.

          1. I think he should go for a legit mural. He could paint a vibrant, happy neighborhood about to be bulldozed, with signs stating “blighted property- condemned by eminent domain”. Or something witty that will piss off the village dicksteppers.

            1. Me too – alternative plan: make each letter a separate sign meeting their max size requirements.

        2. He should paint out “End” and “Abuse.”

    2. I’m all for nitpicking and all, but I’ve driven past this sign many times on I-44, and believe me, it gets its message across very well when viewed at 65 mph. I don’t think anyone has ever thought it was PRO-eminent domain abuse.

      1. You don’t hang out with the right pedants.

      2. I gotta head down I-44 more. Where is it, exactly? I’m in Kirkwood.

      3. Given how many freedom-loving people there are out there who undermine their messages with illiterate and misspelled signage, I think a little pedantry is justified here.

  2. Good afternoon Reason,

    My name is Suki, and I hate every single one of you. All of you are fat, retarded, no-lifes who spend every second of their day looking at stupid ass articles that aren’t my Mary Sue fan-fiction. You are everything bad in the world. Honestly, have any of you ever gotten any pussy? I mean, I guess it’s fun making fun of people because of your own insecurities, but you all take to a whole new level. This is even worse than jerking off to pictures on Facebook.

    Don’t be a stranger. Just hit me with your best shot. I’m pretty much perfect. I was constructed with Face 16 and Body 5. What sex dolls do you play with, other than “pretend your Fleshlight is Pia Varma”? I am also made of medical-grade silicon, and have a banging hot owner/boyfriend (John just made me blow him; Shit was SO cash). You are all faggots who should just kill yourselves. Thanks for listening.

    1. Isn’t body 5 the “voluptuous” one?

      1. I think 5 is exactly like 4 (pedophile’s delight) but with massive boobs.

        6, 7, 8, and 10 are the ones based off of real women I believe.

        1. What is this in reference to?

    2. I see what you did there.

    3. Hey everybody I don’t think this is the real Suki!

      First of all, the post is more than three words, and has no !!!. Secondly, it is definitely not in the usual style of John, err I mean, Suki. WAKE UP!, Reason commenters, for a magazine called Reason… (that one was on the house)

      Thirdly, back and to the left, back and to the left, back and to the left.

  3. Appeal to a higher court.

    1. Makes sense, if Roos has the money and time.

    2. His case was taken by Institute for Justice. Mostly on Free Speech and not his eminent domain case, which Balko’s article didn’t mention.

      RFT has a better article. Which isn’t uncommon when compared to the Post Disgrace.


  4. Fuck, if I want to put a huge billboard on my building, with a naked chick advertising a steak house, within view of an elementary school, I am going to put it up regardless of any fucking zoning law. Its my property and my speech. Fuck zoning paternalists and fuck the children. And if the sign happens to block another property’s view of the beach, fuck them too.

      1. It was hypothetical. I do not have a suitable property. Just explaining my absolute views on property rights. The existence of laws restricting advertising near certain facilities makes me want to violate them. I would love to paint a Marlboro style mural across from a high school.

        1. Sorry, but being the owner of a piece of property does not give you the right to do whatever you want to it or on it. Governments have the right, thankfully, to regulate signage because otherwise America would be even more full of eyesores than it already is…

          1. Apologizing before stating your opinion on something is like admitting you are a pussy.

            Governments do not have rights.

            1. I was apologizing for any hurt feelings you may suffer for having it pointed out just how goofy your opinion is.

              I suppose you can nitpick the notion of government having rights, but if I rephrase it as “the people have the collective right as enforced by the government” you get the same concept.

              Either way, any grown-up, and probably most children, who lives in a city understands why there are regulations on signage.

              1. There is no good reason to regulate any signage. Sign codes only exist for people to impose their moral or aesthetic views on private property, and for the planners to flex their authority. Some people happen to enjoy typography, advertising, signage, and public art. Hell, I wouldn’t even pay a fine for not removing graffiti from my property fast enough. They have shit like that, regulations that punish property owners for vandalism they never asked for.

                And when I state my opinions facts, I don’t give a shit whose feelings I hurt.

                1. I would hedge that by saying there’s a probable regulatory issue when a sign’s effects (i.e. lighting) create a nuisance outside of the property upon which they are situated.

                  1. Agreed. Some uses of property affect others adversely and need to be addressed. A sign on the side of an existing building is not one of them.

                    Government aesthetics brought to the poor folks of Chicago by well meaning urban planners.

                    1. I agree totally. This is a terrible decision.

                2. So, in your imaginary world, I could put a perfect replica of a stop sign in front of my driveway. It really would be more convenient for me if people stopped rather than forcing me to wait to back out onto street.

                  The funny thing about absolute statements is how often they evidence a lack of thought.

                3. “And when I state my opinions facts, I don’t give a shit whose feelings I hurt.”

                  And that, in a nutshell, explains the electoral success of the Libertarian Party.

                  1. Go ahead and put your stop sign up. It won’t keep you from being liable if you back in to traffic. You know, there was a time when local streets were often owned and maintained by adjacent property owners.

            2. Col. Angus, I am totally stealing that “pussy” line. Thanks.

          2. Governments have the right

            Fundamental grasp FAIL.

            Governments have NO rights. Government have certain powers; people have rights.

            What is the source of the government’s power to regulate and prevent “eyesores”?

            I think there’s an ointment for that.

          3. Hop Scotch — You were doing great…until you got to your second word. Try being briefer next time…or just repeating the first word over and over.

          4. So what the fuck is the point of ownership?

          5. Not one for freedom of speech, are ya, Scotch?

            I’ll bet you live in a covenant neighborhood. Fuckers like you have that kind of mentality.

            1. This thread perfectly indicates why people who share 95% of libertarian values, like myself, think that libertarians are total morons.

          6. “Sorry, but being the owner of a piece of property does not give you the right to do whatever you want to it or on it.”

            For example, using your property to maliciously spread lies about the government (e.g., the government restricts free speech, abuses eminent domain, etc.).

    1. I think you just advocated pedophilia.

    2. A 360 sq foot sign is a big externality.

      And note the irony, that Reason, which has stated over and over again that commercial speech deserves the same protection as any other kind of speech, is making a big deal of the question of whether this counts as political speech rather than commercial speech.

      1. The eminent domain mural or sign is speech and use of private property plain and simple. Externalities don’t exist, either something causes direct harm or it doesn’t. Arguing about bullshit like quality of life and eyesores mean you don’t have a legitimate concern.

        1. <blink>What if the sign was a blinking sign?</blink>

          1. Damn Reason and their blocking of blink tags to make a joke!

        2. The First Amendment admits of no exceptions. There are no “place, time and manner” restrictions contained in the text of the amendment.

          Only the intellectually inferior types claim that the First Amendment is not to be construed as written. They “reason” that the exercise of free speech must be subject to “reasonable regulation” or “the public interest” a “balancing test where the private interest must be balanced against important, governmental interests.” These folks will tell you that free speech absolutists lack nuance and sophistication and that their views are primitive.

          Even those a few fries short of a happy meal recognize and understand that the framers contemplated and ultimately rejected the so-called “nuanced” arguments supported by statists and others. The framers knew intellectual claptrap when they heard it. They knew that all sorts of clever artifices and justifications would be advanced by those who claimed that they were being “reasonable” in supporting statist chekcs on free speech.

          The dummies are those that claim that the First Amendment does not mean what it says it means.

          1. So I take it you won’t get upset if I park just off your property in my bass car blasting ICP?

            1. I wouldn’t mind. But if one commemorative Nascar plate rattles off the cupboard, that’s vandalism. Wait, I don’t buy bullshit like that. Blast away.

            2. Uh, no. That’s a stupid argument and you know it.

              By disrupting his sleep you are violating his rights… on the other hand, nobody who drives past the building is forced to look at the sign.

            3. What intensity? A mural isn’t assaulting anyone. If your sonic vibrations are intense enough to cause me physical damage while I am on my own property I have the right to defend myself.

              1. I agree that a mural isn’t assaulting anyone, but libertymike advocated no place, time and manner restrictions. Which means if you can’t sleep through it, tough titty.

                What if the sound isn’t enough to cause damage, but is enough to keep you awake all night?

                1. Does sleep deprivation cause harm? I think it’s been established that it does. You could argue the burden of proof is on me to demonstrate 1. that the sound kept me awake as opposed to other factors. 2. you could not have known that you hadn’t taken reasonable precautions against such an effect.

                  The level of harm and the appropriate response is debatable, but yes keeping me awake all night COULD be considered assault.

                  It would be similar to a blinking mural. If the owner has been informed that his mural induces seizures and a passerby proves beyond reasonable doubt that he suffered one as a consequence despite taking reasonable precautions, then even a mural would fail to be protected by freedom of speech.

          2. Not to nitpick, but it says “CONGRESS shall make no law.” Local bureaucrats are not Congress, and until the privileges and immunities clause is reinstated as the law of the land that will continue to be the case.

      2. All speech is political speech.

      3. There’s nothing ironic about it. Just because someone makes a normative argument for what the law should be doesn’t prevent them from making a positive argument based on what the law currently is. That should be pretty obvious.

        I mean, how is it close to anything “ironic” to say essentially “I don’t think there should even be a distinction between commerical and political speech, but to the extent the law currently recognizes one, this is clearly political speech so even under their incorrect standard, it’s still wrong to restrict it”?

        As for your externality nonsense, your posting comments on here is at least an equal externality since many people may be bothered by seeing them. Perhaps they should be subject to regulation and removal as well.

        1. He COULD replace the sign with an enormous painting of a human penis, with the words “they made me take down my anti-eminent domain sign” scrawled along the shaft of it like a tattoo.

          Then it would be artist expression and he would be untouchable. Plus it would teach the fuckers not to mess with libertarian crackpots who have plenty of time on their hands.

          1. Yeah, it’s only the crackpots who give a shit about property rights.


  6. Without the web site addresses, he wins this easily on appeal. With them, it’s a coin toss.

    1. Both the website addresses are for property rights groups. I don’t see how a sign with a clear political message is any less political speech if it directs people to non-commercial websites dedicated to the same message.

      1. I dont see how “Buy this product” isnt political speech.


        1. Quiet down! Gramma’s watching her stories.

  7. “It attracts attention to the perceived eminent domain abuse.”


    I hope he doesn’t try to influence an election; that would be grounds for internment and re-education.

  8. I would love to paint a Marlboro style mural across from a high school.

    Why not a big, fat resiny joint?

    Double down*, man!

    *A phrase I hate as much as anybody here, for your information.

  9. I hate every single one of you

    And yet, here you are.

  10. This comes up every once in a while here in the Peoples Republic of Tucson. If a political sign is on private property the powers that be pretty much leave it alone. Regardless of the overly restrictive city sign code.

  11. So what if he covered the whole wall with small legal signs that from a distance sent the same message?

    1. Excellent.

      I was going to suggest redoing it as a mirror image, but your solution is much better.

  12. You have the right to free speech. In hushed tones.

  13. For those who suggested Jim Roos remove the web addresses, take a bow!

    He should.

    What Jim could do is erect a series of 30 square foot sized signs to give the impression of ONE GIANT SIGN when seen at a distance.

    Each sign could contain part of the pertinent web addresses.

    That would be a clever middle finger.

  14. Could he put up a billboard next to his mural, with a big arrow pointing at the mural, saying:

    “This sign has been banned.”?

    Or maybe, repaint that wall, with a new sign that says

    “This sign intentionally left blank.”

    1. The last thing Misery needs is more billboards.

  15. Or, perhaps he could get a projector, and project an image of the sign on the wall.

  16. Smoke signals

  17. Is the Bat Signal illegal? Who’s gonna tell him? He’s dark ya know and has all those wonderful toys.

    1. Superman’s very name implies superiority to others, a bad lesson for children.
      Green Lantern discriminates against the blind.
      The Flash violates federally mandated speed limits.
      Jimmy Olsen’s signal watch is non-complient with FCC wireless regs.

  18. He could just create a bunch of signs that make up one big sign, or make it more artistic…in any case, as many people have pointed out it needs to be fixed because it makes it seem like he’s for Eminent Domain Abuse…which I guess if the government confiscated his building they could solve the whole issue.

  19. good thing a sign is a classic example of speech, you know which congress shall make no rule abridging the freedom of? good luck on the appeal!

    1. The city also wanted his property at one time. Hence the sign.

  20. IMO, the only reason this is an issue is because Roos is butting up against the eminent-domain business. The Missouri Citizens for Property Rights petition got shot down, again for no good reason other than there are big interests who want to *abuse* eminent domain.


    1. I think the petition didn’t make the deadlines. I’m not sure on the signatures, but I think it was timing that killed it.

  21. Never mind the sign – look at that shaggy lawn. I’m certainly no city planner or anything, but it seems a bit blighted to me. Also, are those colored children?

  22. Also, are those colored children?

    “Blight brats”, as they are known to well-connected developers.

  23. I assume you’re all cheering for some judicial activism at this point.

  24. I suppose billboards are banned in this town as well?

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