First Amendment

Takedown order for union's giant inflatable rat didn't violate First Amendment, 7th Circuit rules

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Scabby the Rat court document image

Image via Chief Circuit Judge Diane Wood’s decision.

A Wisconsin town did not violate a local union’s First Amendment rights by requiring it to take down a giant inflatable rat erected on a highway median, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Chicago ruled last week that the town of Grand Chute’s 2014 sign ordinance, which banned private signs on the public way, did not discriminate on the basis of content in violation of the First Amendment. The court also said the city code enforcement officer did not selectively enforce the ordinance.

Chief Circuit Judge Diane Wood wrote the Feb. 14 decision that included an ad with pictures of the rat balloons, How Appealing notes. Bloomberg Law and the Cook County Record have coverage.

The local union had sued after the town’s code enforcement officer ordered the takedown of a 12-foot balloon known as Scabby the Rat in 2014. Construction and General Laborers’ Local Union No. 330 had erected the balloon across from a Toyota dealership employing a masonry company that allegedly was not paying standard wages and benefits.

The appeals court affirmed a federal judge’s decision that the town did not discriminate under a 2014 ordinance then in effect. The town passed a new ordinance in 2015, but any dispute over that law was not yet ripe for review, the appeals court said.

According to Bloomberg Law, other federal appeals courts have analyzed the First Amendment issues differently, making it possible that the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually be asked to rule.

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