HAWTHORNE - An ACLU-NJ client who challenged the borough of Hawthorne's unconstitutional ordinance banning political lawn signs won his battle last night when the Hawthorne Council unanimously agreed to rescind the ban in its monthly meeting.
"The Borough was wrong to threaten me with fines and then issue me a ticket. I'm relieved that they are going to take the ordinance off the books," said ACLU-NJ client Andy Gause, who had been forced to take down his Ron Paul signs. "Local governments need to be held accountable when they violate the constitution."
The ACLU-NJ represented Gause after he was issued a citation in April for displaying signs supporting Ron Paul's candidacy. The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Newark, challenged the town's ban of political signs except for 32 days before an election and seven days after.
The borough decided to settle soon after the suit began and, acknowledging that Gause raised "legitimate concerns regarding the First Amendment," the borough has promised to amend the ordinance to eliminate time limits on political signs and not enforce the current ordinance while it is still on the books.
"Ordinances like this one are cropping up all over New Jersey - this isn't by any means isolated," said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. "Even if the restrictions aren't being enforced, the ordinances will have a chilling effect. Until they are taken off the books, we will continue fighting them."
The ACLU-NJ is now investigating an ordinance in North Plainfield banning lawn signs - the most severe the organization has seen. There, no one can hang a sign except for within 10 days before an election and until 72 hours after.
In June, the ACLU-NJ also came to the aid of a Barack Obama supporter whom the Borough of Shrewsbury warned that if she didn't remove her sign, she would risk a summons. That borough is not enforcing the ordinance and is planning to eliminate the ban.
Visit Gause v. Borough of Hawthorne for a copy of the ordinance rescinding the sign restriction and the complaint.