“For Sale” Sign to High Court? Chris Pagan & IJ Will Ask U.S. Supreme Court To Decline Case & Preserve First Amendment Victory

John Kramer
John Kramer · October 3, 2007

Arlington, Va.—Today, Chris Pagan, represented by the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, announced that he will oppose a petition filed by the Village of Glendale, Ohio, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review and overturn his recent First Amendment victory before all 15 judges of the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Glendale filed its petition September 25.

“The 6th Circuit made it crystal clear that Glendale violated Chris Pagan’s First Amendment rights by threatening him with jail time or fines for a routine act of free speech—a ‘for sale’ sign in the window of his car,” said IJ attorney Jeff Rowes. “That the village refuses to accept this ruling shows how far they are willing to go preserve their petty ban on ordinary commercial speech.”

On June 29, 2007, the 6th Circuit ruled that the First Amendment does not allow Glendale to ban a harmless “for sale” sign from the window of a parked car. The ruling puts the burden on the government to provide actual evidence to justify restrictions on speech. Glendale provided none. Instead, the village justified its absurd law in court by relying on the lesser protection usually afforded so-called “commercial speech,” claiming that government bureaucrats should have unfettered discretion to decide when such speech can be limited.

According to Glendale, it is “commonsense” that the government must sometimes keep the public ignorant for its own good because people cannot be trusted to look at a “for sale” sign without dangerously walking into the road to look at the car.

But U.S. Supreme Court precedent says otherwise, setting a high bar for when governments may interfere with or limit the right to free speech and requiring, at the least, some proof before cities like Glendale may censor speech.

“There is a broad consensus from the Supreme Court on down that grassroots commercial speech like a ‘for sale’ sign is worthy of First Amendment protection,” said Chip Mellor, IJ’s president and general counsel. “Glendale wants to chip away at a fundamental American right, but the High Court should leave the 6th Circuit ruling intact. If governments can ban speech for the flimsiest of reasons, the First Amendment is in grave danger.”

Pagan’s response to Glendale’s petition is due October 29, 2007. The Supreme Court will then take several months to issue a decision on whether it will hear the case. The High Court typically agrees to review fewer than two percent of the cases brought to its attention. If the Supreme Court declines to hear the case, it will be sent back to the federal trial court to settle fees in the case.