State v. DeAngelo, 2009 WL 291169 (N.J. Supreme Court, February 5, 2009) – The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled that a Lawrence Township municipal ordinance prohibiting display of balloons or other inflated signs, with the exception of “grand opening” signs, is an improper content-based restriction on speech, in violation of the First Amendment. This case arose from the criminal conviction of a union official for displaying an inflatable union rat as part of a labor dispute. The Court declared the ordinance to be impermissibly content-based, favoring commercial over non-commercial speech, because it would have permitted a sign of the same construction and dimensions as the rat, if erected in connection with a business’ “grand opening.” The Court further found the ordinance to be overly broad in that it eliminated an entire medium of expression without providing a readily available alternative, as required.
This decision is not an across-the-board approval of “union rat” displays in all circumstances, but rather reasserts the First Amendment analysis to be applied in determining whether any particular governmental prohibition is constitutional.
Note: This article was published in the March 2009 issue of the New Jersey eAuthority.