In 2012, Representative Jim Kasper and Senate Candidate Jim Roers’ campaign included placing 4′ X 8′ signs in residential neighborhoods and parking semi-trailer campaign billboards throughout District 46. These signs were a not so subtle violation of Fargo’s local sign ordinance which prohibited the semi-trailer billboards and restricted signs in residential neighborhoods to 1/4th the size of what they’d dispersed.
Kasper then seized the opportunity to amend the bill to wiping out local ordinances on political signs. This amendment did not receive a hearing and there was no notice of public input. Kasper and his accomplice Representative Ben Koppelman argued that legal precedent did not allow limitations of free speech on private property.
Their justification, however, was not accurate. That is because CASE LAW DID ALLOW local governments the ability to limit signage for public safety and aesthetics IF the ordinance is content neutral. In fact, on January 22, 2013, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the City of Cary, SC’s content neutral sign ordinance that limited the size and placement of signs on private property. To be sure, content neutral restrictions have been recognized as constitutional in numerous federal court decisions. Stenehjem either knew this or should have known this and informed the committee.
In a more recent decision, the U.S. Supreme court issued a major ruling Reed vs. Town of Gilbert (2015 US Supreme Court), Justice Thomas noted that local governments still have “ample content-neutral options available to resolve problems with safety and aesthetics” which include the regulation of size, building materials, lighting, moving parts, or portability.