Norfolk Virginia Free Speech

Central Radio Company v. City of Norfolk
Signs of Abuse in Norfolk, Virginia

. IJ client Bob Wilson
IJ clients Bob Wilson and Kelly Dickinson are being blocked by the city of Norfolk, Va., from displaying a banner protesting eminent domain abuse.


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.

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.

Essential Background

Images and Media

Latest Release: Victory for Virginia Property Owner in Sign Fight: U.S. Supreme Court Vacates Lower Court Ruling That Government Could Suppress Protest Banner (June 29, 2015)

Client Photo

Press Conference Video (May 2, 2012)

Rally Photos (July 5, 2012) 

Launch Release: Institute for Justice Challenges City's Censorship Of Anti-Eminent Domain Abuse Sign (May 2, 2012)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Reply to Brief in Opposition (May 15, 2015)

Brief in Opposition to our Petition for Writ of Certiorari (May 4, 2015)

Neighborhood Enterprises Amicus Brief (May 4, 2015)

Law Professor Amicus Brief (May 4, 2015)

Petition for Certiorari (March 31, 2015)

Opinion Affirming District Court Order (January 13, 2015)

IJ opening brief in the Fourth Circuit (October 9, 2013)
Order Granting Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (May 15, 2013)

Case Timeline

 Filed Complaint: 

May 2, 2012

 Court Filed:

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


District court grants defendant’s motion for summary judgment, May 15, 2013

Appeal Filed:

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit

Appellate Court Decision:

4th Circuit affirms district court’s decision, Jan. 13, 2015

 Current Court:

Supreme Court of the United States

Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: First Amendment Scholars, National Free Speech Group, Prominent Activist and Low-Income Housing Provider Urge U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Major Case At the Intersection of Free Speech and Property Rights (May 5, 2015)

Release: Case Appealed to U.S. Supreme Court Shows How If We Lose One Right, We Can Lose Them All (April 1, 2015)

none available

Release: Federal Appellate Court OKs City’s Crackdown on Protest Sign (January 13, 2015)

Release: Congratulations! Virginia Supreme Court Strikes Down Attempt To Take Central Radio’s Land; IJ Continues Fight To Vindicate Central Radio’s Right To Protest Eminent Domain Abuse (September 12, 2013)

Release: Court Now Poised for Important Next Step In Norfolk Free Speech Case; Can the Government Shut Down Free Speech Protest That Calls Attention to Government’s Abuse of Power? (January 31, 2013)

Release: Not a Banner for Free Speech (August 7, 2012)

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: Good news for speech, Central Radio The Virginian-Pilot (June 30, 2015)
Article: Get Rid of the Supreme Court? No Thanks Reason (June 29, 2015)
Op-Ed: The loss of one right threatens all of our rights Washington Post (May 29, 2015)
Article: Another Sign Case Comes to the Court Concurring Opinions (April 8, 2015)
Article: Can a city suppress speech protesting eminent domain? Volokh Conspiracy (April 2, 2015)
Article: We're going to eminent domain you, and then we're going to bar you from complaining about it Washington Post (April 1, 2015)
Article: Sign restrictions curb our freedoms Virginian-Pilot (January 20, 2015)
Article: Sign code as a weapon Washington Post (January 23, 2013)
Article: Norfolk Virginia Free Speech-Hearing Update IJ Website (July, 2012)
Article: This Land is MY Land IJ Website (July 5, 2012)
Article: Norfolk business owners rally support to keep property WVAC (July 6, 2012)
Article: Free Speech and Property Rights Under Attack in Norfolk Liberty & Law (June, 2012)
Video: Protest Signs Not Allowed The Stossel Show FOX Business (May 18, 2012)
Op/Ed: Norfolk tries to impose radio silence  Richmond Times Dispatch (May 8, 2012)

Article: From property rights to free speech The Virginian-Pilot (May 2, 2012)
Article: Norfolk Virginia Free Speech IJ Website (May 2, 2012)  

Link: Norfolk Signs IJ Website (July 26, 2011)

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