Jackson Hole sign ordinance violates the law
By Maury Jones
The US Constitution says “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” The Wyoming Constitution says “Every person may freely speak, write and publish on all subjects.”
Is my bumper sticker protected by free speech? It expresses my views and is published on my property, my car. I may “publish on all subjects”, according to the Wyoming Constitution. Okay, how about a tattoo? Is that free speech? That expresses my view and is published on my body, my property. (Well, on your body perhaps. This cowboy doesn’t put bumper stickers or artwork on my skin.)
A sign placed in my yard at my dwelling expresses my viewpoint. It is on my property. It is exercising my right to free speech and my right to “publish” my viewpoint. My yard sign can say, “This property protected by Smith and Wesson.” Can I also say, “I will vote for Joe Politician”?
Not so fast, says Teton County, Wyoming. The Teton County Land Development Regulations, at Section 5.6.B.1 says “No person shall erect… any sign without first obtaining a Sign Permit.” So my “Protected by Smith and Wesson” yard sign must have a permit?
How about a political yard sign? A temporary exemption for political signs is in regulation 5.6.B.1.3.b; “Political signs pertaining to a specific election, which are displayed not earlier than 30 days prior to the election and which are removed by the candidate or property owner who placed the sign within 5 days after the election” do not need a county sign permit.
So basically Teton County is saying that I only have political free speech 30 days prior to an election. If I express that free speech by publishing my view via a yard sign outside those parameters, I am in violation. I fear they might arrest me and throw me in the hoosegow with burglars, armed robbers, and murderers. The courts have said such a sign ordinance constitutes an unconstitutional censorship of political speech. In Williams v. City of Cheyenne the First Judicial District Court (Laramie County District Court) ruled that the 45 day time limit in Cheyenne for political yard signs violates the Wyoming and US Constitutions protecting free speech. Therefore, Teton County is in violation.
But isn’t Teton County’s sign ordinance, which is designed to minimize the visual clutter associated with signs, necessary to preserve our pristine environment? The US Supreme Court ruled in City of Ladue v. Gilleo (1994) that the visual clutter argument “is valid but not compelling”. It does not justify the curtailment of freedom of speech.
What can you do?
Display those candidate signs urging people to vote. You can probably erect any other opinion sign, as protected by free speech laws, but please do it tastefully. By the above cited decisions you can do that legally. Residents can ignore Teton County’s sign ordinance with impunity, according to the courts. “Where rights secured by the Constitution are involved, there can be no rulemaking or legislation which would abrogate them.” The Miranda Decision: United States Supreme Court, 1966.
You have just learned a valuable lesson about a Constitutionally Limited Government. Teton County must rewrite their regulations to conform to the law. Until that is done, your signs may get some flack from citizens and enforcement personnel, but just politely point them to your free speech rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Maury Jones, “Jonesy” Jackson Hole. 307-887-3356 JonesyJacksonHole@gmail.com