West Long Branch man was ticketed under unconstitutional ordinance for flying flags that said “Trump” and “Make America Great Again” more than 30 days before election
The ACLU of New Jersey and Eric D. Sherman, a partner with New York-based law firm Pryor Cashman, have teamed up to defend the rights of a man who was ticketed under an unconstitutional West Long Branch ordinance for flying flags supporting Donald Trump.
Joseph Hornick was cited under a policy that forbids the display of political signs until 30 days before an election. Hornick’s flags read, “Trump – Make America Great Again!”
“I am a proud, passionate Donald Trump supporter, and I would be willing to pay any fine in exchange for my free speech, or even serve jail time if it comes to that – but as an American, I shouldn’t have to pay that kind of price for expressing my beliefs,” said Joseph Hornick, a longtime West Long Branch resident. “I shouldn’t be punished for exercising my constitutional right to free speech. I’m not breaking the law by flying my Trump flags; rather, the borough is breaking the law by having this unconstitutional ordinance on the books.”
“My Trump flags are not coming down. And now, I’m even more determined to keep them flying,” Hornick added.
West Long Branch, in Monmouth County, first ticketed Hornick on March 25 for flying his Trump flags after Hornick had communicated with the police department about theft and vandalism of his banners. When police officers arrived, they cited Hornick under an ordinance restricting when political signs can be displayed. Generally, the First Amendment does not allow blanket bans on certain types of speech, even for limited durations, especially when it’s based on content.
“There’s no ordinance that can overrule the Constitution,” said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a lawn sign or a flag – you have the right to express your political beliefs every day of the year, no matter how close it is to Election Day. West Long Branch needs to realize that unless it takes this policy off the books, it’s violating the Constitution.”
New Jersey holds its primary election for the presidential nomination on June 7, which means that West Long Branch’s unconstitutional policy would ban the display of political signs until May 9. Violating the ordinance, according to the town, could carry a $2,000 fine or 90 days in jail.
“Joe Hornick has every right to fly his Trump flags, and West Long Branch has every responsibility to let him,” said attorney Eric D. Sherman, who represents Hornick. “We should not let stand those laws that restrict free speech, especially political speech in an election year. Such laws violate the Constitution and offend our notions of what it means to be an American.”
Hornick has a municipal court appearance that is now scheduled for May 18.
“Year after year, we are informed of unlawful sign restrictions, and we need to threaten suit to get towns to act,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. “Towns throughout New Jersey need to review their sign ordinances to make sure they don’t include unlawful restrictions. It is time to make our ordinances constitutional again.”
The ACLU-NJ has successfully challenged restrictions on the timing of political signs in the past, including through the representation of a Ron Paul supporter who was prohibited from displaying his sign by the Borough of Hawthorne, in Passaic County, in 2008.