Litigation by Letterhead

February 1, 2014

Sometimes, the Institute for Justice does not need to file a lawsuit to get results. Often, a letter letting the government know that it is doing something unconstitutional is enough to make it back down. Take the city of Maple Valley, Wash., for example. Like Sacramento (see previous story), Maple Valley arbitrarily restricted businesses’ ability to use signs to advertise. After being contacted by a pet food store named Yummy Tummy—one of the businesses affected by the sign code—the IJ Washington Chapter sent the city a letter setting out how the Maple Valley sign code conflicted with the First Amendment. The city is now in the process of amending its code to allow businesses like Yummy Tummy to advertise effectively using signs.

This is an example not only of the effectiveness of IJ’s “litigation by letterhead” efforts, but also of the lasting power of IJ’s court victories. In our letter to Maple Valley, we relied heavily on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Ballen v. City of Redmond, a case in which IJ-WA successfully challenged Redmond’s discriminatory sign code on behalf of a bagel shop owner. Victories like these ripple across a jurisdiction and become the norm that other governments must follow.

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