Small Virginia Business Beats Government In Eminent Domain Clash

Casey Harper | Contributor

Virginia’s 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with a small business targeted for speaking out against eminent domain.

The Virginia court ruled Friday that the city of Norfolk could not ban an anti-eminent domain sign put up by Central Radio Company, which nearly fell victim to eminent domain itself. The court ruled that banning the sign was unconstitutional content discrimination, a victory for free speech and anti-eminent domain advocates.

Eminent domain laws allow the government to force owners to sell property for the greater good in some circumstances. Central Radio’s office was at the time being threatened by eminent domain, so the business hung up a large banner protesting the loss of their business.  But the city of Norfolk demanded the sign be taken down, saying it violated city rules because of the “message expressed.” The business filed a lawsuit in May of 2012.

“Justice has been served, finally,” Bob Wilson, one of Central Radio’s owners, said in a statement.  “The 4th Circuit, at the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court, did the right thing by recognizing that the city of Norfolk violated our rights.  It is every citizen’s duty to protest against the government when it does wrong.”

The banner read,“50 years on this street/78 years in Norfolk/100 workers/Threatened by eminent domain!”

Central Radio Banner, Courtesy, Institute For Justice

Central Radio Banner, Courtesy, Institute For Justice

The 4th Circuit had previously ruled against the business, but the Supreme Court ordered the lower court to look at the case again after the 2015 Supreme Court ruling on Reed v. Town of Gilbert, a case where the court ruled that laws discriminating against signs based on their content was unconstitutional.

“This 4th Circuit ruling should be a wakeup call to cities around the nation that they must reform their sign codes to protect speech and treat signs equally no matter what they say,” Institute for Justice Attorney Robert Frommer, a lawyer on Central Radio’s litigation team, said in a statement. “The key is not more regulation, but less.”

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