Norfolk Virginia Free Speech

Federal Appellate Court OKs City’s Crackdown on Protest Sign:
 4th Circuit fails to protect Norfolk business’ eminent domain protest banner; lawyers, business owners vow appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

In a double blow to free speech and property rights, the city of Norfolk, Va., tried to not only take a thriving business using its power of eminent domain, but also censor a powerful and highly visible sign protesting the unlawful condemnation.  In June 2015, U.S. Supreme Court directed the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear this important First Amendment case.

It all started when the city’s land developer—the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA)—condemned more than 170 residential, institutional and business buildings near Hampton Boulevard in order to hand the properties over to Old Dominion University. One of those properties was Central Radio, which has been building and repairing ship-based radio equipment in Norfolk since 1934. After losing an initial fight in Virginia trial court to keep Central Radio’s property, one of the company’s owners, Bob Wilson, and its vice president, Kelly Dickinson, decided to take their battle to the court of public opinion: they hung a 375-square-foot banner on the side of the Central Radio building protesting the attempt to take the property.

Showing as little regard for free speech rights as it had for property rights, the city—at the urging of the Old Dominion Real Estate Foundation, the very entity that stood to receive Central Radio’s property—immediately cited Central Radio for violating the city’s sign code. The code limits Central Radio to a sign of 60 square feet, which would be illegible blocks away on busy Hampton Boulevard, where Central Radio’s intended audience, including city officials, travels every day.

In September 2013, the Virginia Supreme Court vindicated Central Radio’s property rights, halting the unlawful attempt to take its property. But the assault on its free speech rights continued. After a divided panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Norfolk’s suppression of Central Radio’s speech was constitutionally permissible, IJ petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review.

On June 29, 2015, the Supreme Court vacated the 4th Circuit’s decision and remanded the case back to that court to reconsider its earlier decision. IJ will continue to litigate this important case to secure the free speech rights not only of Central Radio, but of all Americans.


  • Central Radio Company

    Central Radio has been building and repairing ship-based radio equipment in Norfolk since Bob Wilson’s father founded the company in 1934.

Norfolk Virginia Free Speech

IJ client Bob Wilson is blocked by the city of Norfolk, Va., from displaying a banner protesting eminent domain abuse outside his business, Central Radio Company. Founded by his father in 1934, Central Radio has been building and repairing ship-based radio equipment in Norfolk ever since its opening.

Date Filed

May 2, 2012

Original Court

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

Current Court

4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Status



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