Inflatable Rat Has Its Day In Court

September 1, 2016

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has found that Unions have the First Amendment right to display an inflatable rat as part of an area standards campaign.  Furthermore, localities that attempt to prohibit the use of inflatable rats may be infringing on that First Amendment right.
The decision was made in Laborers Local Union No. 330 v. Town of Grand Chute.  The case overturned a lower court decision which originally dismissed the Union’s First Amendment claims.  The Town of Grand Chute in Illinois had ordered the LIUNA local to remove an inflatable rat that was being used as part of an area standards campaign. Though the rat was located on a public right-of-way next to the construction project the town still acted to remove the inflatable after the owner of the construction site called to complain.
The Union took the matter to Federal Court claiming a violation of the First Amendment right to engage in free speech. The Union noted that Grand Chute had never enforced its own sign ordinance against other signs around town or even against the rat prior to the property owners complaint. A lower court had originally dismissed the Union’s complaint, arguing that the sign ordinance existed to protect local aesthetics.  The Federal Court found that the Union’s free speech was in fact violated due to inconsistent enforcement of the town ordiance and ordered the case be returned back to the District Court with a list of detailed instruction on how the case is to be reviewed.
In a summation of its opinion, the Federal court ruled that incomplete enforcement of the town’s own ordinance “is not an adequate answer to a contention that unit of government has allowed some speech and stifled other speech, choosing which ideas can be conveyed.”