Driver wins free speech case in Richmond


Rod Driver might have some appreciation for how Ice-T used to say, "Freedom of speech -- just watch what you say."

From the ACLU:

Ruling in an ACLU case, a federal judge has struck down a state law that was used by the Town of Richmond to repeatedly remove former Congressional candidate Rod Driver’s political signs from private property during the 2006 election. In a 25-page opinion, Judge William Smith agreed with the ACLU that the statute violated Driver’s First Amendment rights.

In August 2006, Driver posted a political sign for his candidacy on the private property of supporters across from the Washington County Fair Grounds in Richmond. The sign was taken down, so Driver replaced it, only to find it removed again on several occasions. When Driver complained to police chief Raymond Driscoll, the chief said he had removed the signs because they violated a state law that bars signs “within the limits of a public highway without first obtaining the written consent of the chief of police.”

The lawsuit, filed by ACLU volunteer attorney Richard A. Sinapi, argued that the state law cited by Driscoll was unconstitutional by giving him unbridled discretion to decide whether a sign could be posted. Judge Smith agreed. Although the state argued that the statute was premised on safety considerations, the judge noted: “The statute makes no mention of traffic safety, or any other purpose justifying the restrictions, and sets forth no standards based on the characteristics of a proposed sign… The state’s assertion that the statute sets forth clear standards is simply not supported by the plain language of the statute.” He added: “Ultimately, allowing the statute to stand would be an endorsement of a ‘trust me because I am the Chief of Police’ standard,” an argument that the Judge noted has long been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Driver, who is running for a state legislative seat this year, said he hopes to repost signs at the same location. He added: “I thought it outrageous that a police chief could decide who may or may not post political signs, and then tear down those he disapproved of. Now the court has found it is also unconstitutional.”

This is not the first time Driver has run into free speech issues. Back in 2002, I wrote about this instance:

When it comes to presenting a variety of perspectives about global issues, especially the Middle East, some viewpoints are much more welcome than others. Consider the case of former state representative Rod Driver, whose February 20 talk at the Kingston Free Library was abruptly canceled (and then reinstated) because of his sympathy for the Palestinians.

Driver, who was criticized several years ago after he bought television commercials showing the demolition of Palestinian homes, was slated to speak as part of a multi-week series entitled "Avenues in a Perilous World." Other speakers in the program include Mohammed Sharif, president of the Southern Rhode Island Islamic Society, Mackubin Thomas Owens of the Naval War College, and Rabbi Marc S. Jagolinzer of Temple Shalom in Middletown.

But although each segment features a single speaker, South Kingstown Councilwoman Karen Asher considered Driver's opinions so disagreeable that it was necessary to call for an additional speaker. "I just felt it would be better to have an opposing point of view," Asher, who couldn't be reached for comment, told the Narragansett Times. "They have done a great job with the series, but I felt this was one night where another perspective was lacking."

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