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When political lawn signs shout too loudly

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"If you have more onerous restrictions on political signs than on advertising, the argument is that political signs are being discriminated against," says David Hudson Jr., a scholar at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. "But the case law is not uniform, and it's enough of a muddled area that each side will have some fodder to fire off if it goes to litigation."

The city is justified in treating political and commercial advertising differently because political signs appear in residential neighborhoods while commercial signs are confined to the business district and must gain approval from a local planning board, says Myles Burke, Lawrence's commissioner of inspectional services.

Opponents of the law should take their grievances to city council and comply with the ordinance in the run-up to the Sept. 16 primary between Lantigua and his opponent, Marcos Devers, rather than look for a test case to launch a court challenge, Mr. Burke adds.

"Challenges and changing of the ordinance should come first before violations," he says. "You're putting a lot of supporters and individual owners of property at risk of some serious [$1,000-a-day] fines if the court and judge see it our way."

Though the debate in Lawrence was touched off when a member of Mr. Devers's campaign complained that Lantigua's signs were oversized, Burke's office has recently changed its approach and begun issuing citations – including a couple for Devers signs - based on violations of the state building code rather than size restrictions; according to city rules, people installing any sign larger than eight square feet on buildings must obtain a permit in the interest of public safety.

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