Screwed by the Town of Cary AND by the Fourth Circuit
Bowden v. Town of Cary, 22 January, 2013
Holding: 1) Aesthetics are more important than your right to free speech, 2) A sign ordinance is okay so long as it still allows self expression in a less meaningful way.
William Bowden believed that the Town of Cary damaged his property from runoff from construction projects. So he reacted like any rational person and spray-painted "Screwed by the Town of Cary" in large fluorescent letters on the side of his house. The Town of Cary responded by serving him with a zoning violation because his "wall sign" was too large and used impermissible fluorescent lettering.
The District Court agreed with Mr. Bowden and allowed him to continue his Quixotic Free Speech graffiti.
The Fourth Circuit, ruling from their dark castle in Richmond, felt differently. They decided that the sign ordinance was content neutral (it was not aimed at any particular viewpoint). Therefore, it must decide whether the ordinance furthers a substantial government interest, is narrowly tailored to further that interest, and leaves open ample alternative channels of communication. The Court then goes on to say with minimal further explanation "it is beyond dispute that the Town’s stated interests in promoting aesthetics and traffic safety are substantial." (Three fallacies committed here; extra credit if you can name them!) Further, because the sign ordinance still allows a person to say what he wants to say, it is narrowly tailored to further that interest.
This should be a deeply disturbing ruling from those people who feel like they should be able to do whatever they want with their property. It should be also be deeply disturbing to people who hope the world continues to be populated by suitably entertaining people.
Of note here is that the Plaintiff is actually the administrator of his estate. That means that the fight of a crazy old man continues on from the grave. The world is awesome.