Regulating Political Signs and Speech

Strategies for Local Governments Responding to First Amendment and Land Use Challenges

Recording of a 90-minute CLE webinar with Q&A

Conducted on Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Recorded event now available

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Program Materials

This CLE webinar will provide guidance for counsel to local governments on how to lawfully restrict the display of political signs and public employee campaigning on municipal property—without violating the federal and state constitutions.


Election season is upon us again. Every city and town is flooded with signs encouraging votes, and complaints about the sign clutter are coming in. Local governments must also deal with complaints about public employees campaigning on city or county property.

Although political speech is at the core of protection of the First Amendment, some local regulation is constitutional. The law in this area is notoriously complex, however, and local governments frequently lose litigation over political and protest signs.

What are the constitutional limits on regulation of political signs? Can political signs be regulated as a distinct class? Must a city allow the signs on public property? Can public employees campaign on work time or in the workplace? Can a political sign be so extreme that its display is a crime?

Listen as our authoritative panel of land use and First Amendment legal specialists explains the regulations that local governments may place upon the display of political signs and upon public employees’ activities—without violating the federal and state constitutions. The panel will also discuss the rules that have led some cities to a litigation loss.



  1. Regulating political signs
    1. Political signs as a distinct class: choosing the topic of debate?
    2. The complete ban: city wide, in residential areas, on public property
    3. Limits on size, height and number
    4. Duration rules: limiting the time of display
    5. Post-election removal requirements
    6. Permits, registrations, fees and removal bonds
    7. Mandatory disclosure of sponsorship (McIntyre and Citizens United)
    8. Banning signs and electioneering near the polls
    9. Alleged threats upon the president or vice president
  2. Restricting campaign activity by public employees
    1. Garcetti v. Ceballos (U.S. Supreme Court, 2006) (public employee’s free speech rights when speaking in official capacity)
    2. State or city laws restricting political activity by certain public employees


The panel will review these and other key questions:

  • What issues must the municipal attorney consider when determining whether time limits for political signs is lawful?
  • Can local governments impose any content restrictions on political signs and literature?
  • How does current case law address participation by public employees in campaign activities on local government property?
  • Can the political speech rights of public employees, even while off duty and at home, be limited as a term of employment?


Randal R. Morrison
Randal R. Morrison
Sabine & Morrison

Mr. Morrison is Director of Litigation for his firm. He has successfully defended many cities against lawsuits...  |  Read More

Susan L. Trevarthen
Susan L. Trevarthen

Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman

Ms. Trevarthen serves as Chair of the firm’s Municipal Planning and Land Use Group. She represents governmental...  |  Read More

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