Small Business

Small Business Sues Sacramento for Free Speech Violations

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Look at them smile while flouting the law. Disgusting.
Credit: Courtesy of the Institute for Justice

Carl and Elizabeth Fears own Got Muscle Health Club in Sacramento. Stuck in an inconspicuous location facing the back-end of a parking lot, the Fears placed a sandwich board-style sign on the sidewalk to draw more attention to their business. After years of displaying the sign, the Fears are now facing hundreds of dollars in fines every day the sign remains up.

The Sacramento government insists the sign violates local code. Working with the Institute for Justice (IJ), the couple is taking the city of Sacramento to court for violating their First Amendment rights.

IJ cites two ways Sacramento infringes on the rights of the Fears. First, "the city unconstitutionally bans speech based on its content." Second, "the city's sign code unconstitutionally restricts commercial speech more broadly than is necessary to satisfy any legitimate governmental purpose—the code is "riddled with exemptions" for real estate, nonprofits, political campaigns, historical, and religious groups.

Erica Smith, one of the lawyers on the case, explains that cities often justify these kinds of codes with traffic safety concerns and aesthetics. Smith, however, points out that "many academic studies debunk the safety issue. The human brain filters out irrelevant information." She adds, "in fact, signs actually ease traffic congestion," because drivers have a better guidance on their route. Smith also explained that this type of overregulation is especially damaging to small businesses. "Big franchises do no need the sandwich board advertising like Got Muscle."

According to IJ, the Fears have no desire to make a quick buck off their city:

The Fears are not asking for money. Instead, they just want a declaration stating that the city's sign code is unconstitutional and a permanent injunction stopping the city from enforcing it. The Fears are also asking for a preliminary injunction that would allow their signs to remain in place until the court makes a final decision.

William Maurer, another IJ lawyer, points to a similar case involving political signage: "This is unfortunately part of a trend across the country," he says. Local governments "believe they don't need to have a good idea of what the Constitution requires, what they're limited to do, and the rights that people possess both in property and speech."

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  1. Local governments “believe they don’t need to have a good idea of what the Constitution requires, what they’re limited to do, and the rights that people possess both in property and speech.”

    Me experience is that local government doesn’t really have a concept of what constitutional limits are. These aren’t exactly big thinkers to begin with.

  2. Speaking of free speech and capitalism, people like to make fun of Bono, myself included, but fair is fair; he deserves a medal for saying this. It may be obvious to us. But this is pretty much something no one is allowed to say in polite company.

    http://blog.independent.org/20…..-than-aid/

    “Aid is just a stopgap,” he said. “Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid.

    Now if he could just take the last step and admit aid is counter productive. But in fairness, if he ever did that, someone would probably shoot him or something.

    1. What do you have against helping, John?

    2. St. Bono is about to be decanonized.

    3. Yeah, after hearing that, my respect for him increased greatly. He actually cares about people leaving poverty – it’s not just about him.

    4. And left-tards start flinging their feces at Bono in 3… 2… 1…

    5. This is not the first time Bono has made a public statement to this effect. My opinion of him used to be very low as he seemed to advocate simple aid, but evidently he’s actually begun listening to the people he wants to help, who are saying more and more that aid, as should be clear, benefits the entrenched elites more than the general populations of recipient countries.

    6. Foreign Aid: Taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries.

    7. Aid has it’s place in a disaster or refugee situation. But even then it is better to buy as much as possible from local markets rather than just shipping in lots of food or whatever. All that will do is displace local economic activity.

    8. I just wish he’d double the n in his name, because every time I read it in a political context I think Sonny.

  3. In the town of Rosemere, QC where I run my business it’s the same problem. The ‘crats running the urban department are beyond capable of applying logic to signage. The hurdles and begging I have to do to advertise is abnormal. Funny though, they want their guaranteed salaries and pensions though – which I pay through my taxes. I feel for these folks. No one should get in our way of simple signage that tells potential customers “hey, we’re here!” Instead, we get this exaggerated crap about how evil ads are a-la Adbusters.

  4. That is, I feel for the owners in Sacramento.

  5. See, now if we glibertarians hadn’t run Tulpa off, he’d be in here bleating about something something government property. You people should be thanking us in the Axis for that.

    1. “…thanking us in the Axis…”

      Is that what the kids are calling it nowadays?

  6. “According to IJ, the Fears have no desire to make a quick buck off their city:”

    Maybe not, but if I were them, I’d be happy to take a slow many-bucks.

  7. I know its not IJ’s thing, but I would be surprised if they couldn’t do an inventory of sandwich board signs in the city (you know there are probably a bunch) and show that most of them belong to white business owners, thus tacking on a racial discrimination claim.

    I know, I know, but I see no reason not to take every advantage here, and feed the collectivists a dose of their own medicine.

    1. ….(you know there are probably a bunch)

      As reason.com’s resident asshole in Sacramento I can attest to this fact. Sandwich boards, Human directionals, mechanical..that is pseudo human directionals.

    1. I want to believe that it’s a pun related to their muscular physiques, but …

  8. William Maurer, another IJ lawyer, points to a similar case involving political signage: “This is unfortunately part of a trend across the country,” he says. Local governments “believe they don’t need to have a good idea of what the Constitution requires, what they’re limited to do, and the rights that people possess both in property and speech.”

    No shit. Single-issue idiots who haven’t the vaguest notion of the actual duties, responsibilities or limitations of the job run for office all the time. They spout a lot of feelgood gibberish, and the rubes flock to the polls. Later, they wonder why the city commissioners are sending letters to the President of France demanding he allow French schoolchildren to wear crucifixes to school as the trash goes uncollected and trees blow down on Main street.

  9. I honestly don’t understand the anti-sign movement in municipalities. In my hometown there’s a strip mall where the signs are small and really can only be seen from across the street. It seems to me to be unsafe – I’d bet some harried driver will hit the brakes and swerve, causing an accident.

    Unfortunately it seems to be trending amongst the petty people who get elected to such positions. Must reduce sign size, it’s all the rage.

  10. Must reduce sign size, it’s all the rage.

    Commerce may be necessary, but it’s soooo unseemly. All the best people know where the good stores are, anyway.

  11. The Fears are not asking for money. Instead, they just want a declaration stating that the city’s sign code is unconstitutional and a permanent injunction stopping the city from enforcing it. The Fears are also asking for a preliminary injunction that would allow their signs to remain in place until the court makes a final decision.

    Most people understandably would just comply. Others may sue but settle for some cash. But it sounds like the city picked on the wrong folks this time.

  12. Our local ordinances are even stupider. You can’t post a sign, someone has to hold it. So you get some dude standing out in front of cash for gold stores waving to traffic. Or some poor bastard doomed to wear a costume in the middle of July who can’t see standing on the side of the road. Which really classes up the place.

    1. But, think of DER JERBZ!!111!!! created or saved!!!11!!!11!

  13. In other local news, the P-Funk mothership is landing at the Smithsonian.

    It isn’t the original Mothership. This 1,200-pound aluminum spacecraft was built in the mid-’90s ? an indistinguishable replica, Clinton says, of the smoke-spewing stage prop he first introduced to slack-jawed funk fans in 1976.

    1. Please, please tell me this is going on permanent exhibit at Udvar-Hazy.

      1. Is that the Air & Space side? Because that would be an epic way to troll future generations.

        1. Yeah, Udvay-Hazy is the Air and Space annex at Dulles airport. It has many other historical aircraft under one roof, including an SR-71, a Concorde, the first 707 airliner, the actual Enola Gay, and OV-103 (Discovery).

          1. Sorry, UdvaR-Hazy.

  14. The word is flouting, not flaunting, for chrissakes.

    1. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

      If you don’t got it, flout it.

  15. Go to any place that has large groups of people and look around. How many people there are perfect physical specimens? If you said zero you would be correct. Genes and environment conspire to keep nearly everyone’s development short of perfection. I would say that the vast majority of people fall far short of perfection and even short of well developed.

    The brain is no different from the rest of the physical body. I posit that an even larger percentage of brain development is thwarted than the rest of the body. There is no shortage of crazy and no shortage of stupid.

    This is why we are where we are.

  16. many academic studies debunk the safety issue

    I really wish that was relevant. But the fact is that the mere appearance of a possible safety issue means the court will defer. Only if the opposite was true, that the law actually caused a safety issue, would the court be likely to interject on these grounds.

    Oh, and I hate Rational Basis. But it is what it is.

  17. slack-jawed funk fans

    Is there any other kind?

    1. Well, some of the kids used to like to go to the show high on exctasy in the late 90s. I mean, I heard. I think they weren’t as slack-jawed.

  18. But, but, but without regulations it would be chaos! Anyone could put a sign of any size in any place! Can you imagine? People acting without asking permission and taking orders? That would be, like, freedom or something! We can’t have that!

    1. You would think people could, oh, I don’t know, not spend their money at places where the signage bothers them. And email management to share that fact.

  19. Anyone could put a sign of any size in any place!

    And, when Merchant B puts up a sign so huge it obscures Merchant A’s sign, retaliation will ensue resulting in a sign “arms race” the inevitable end result of which will be signs so enormous they will be visible from space.

    “Gentlemen, we cannot allow a sign gap.”

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