Opponents of eminent domain won an important victory this week when the US Supreme Court ruled against a city that had ordered removal of an anti-eminent domain sign.
The justices did this by vacating a US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling and then ordering the court to reconsider a decision that had allowed the city of Norfolk, Virginia, to tell a private business to remove the sign. The Supreme Court’s order was unsigned and only four sentences.
“This is a twin victory for free speech and property rights,” Michael Bindas, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, said of the Supreme Court’s action in Central Radio Company v. City of Norfolk.
The case began in 2010 when the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority tried to use eminent domain to seize the property owned by Central Radio Inc., a family-owned business, and turn it over to Old Dominion University. Not surprisingly Central Radio’s owners, the Wilson family, fought back.
One of the ways they protested was to put a large banner containing the American flag and the following statement on their building: “50 years on this street/78 years in Norfolk/100 workers/Threatened by eminent domain!”
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The 365-square-foot banner faced Hampton Boulevard, which the Fourth Circuit Court described as a major six-lane highway. The banner was designed to be visible several blocks away.
Shortly after the Wilsons put up the banner, an unidentified official at Old Dominion University, the very institution that would profit from the land grab, filed a complaint with the city of Norfolk, Washington Post blogger Radley Balko reported. The city’s zoning officials ordered the Wilsons to remove the banner, contending it violated the sign code because it was too big and threatened “public safety.”