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Court: Town Can Take Down Giant Rat

By William Vogeler, Esq. on February 27, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A giant inflatable rat made it into the books at the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The rat was central to Construction and General Laborers' Union No. 330 v. Town of Grand Chute, a dispute over a 12-foot balloon known as Scabby the Rat. A union put up the balloon with a sign protesting low wages at nearby car dealership.

A code enforcement officer took it down, and the Seventh Circuit said that was fine. Rats, of course, don't have First Amendment rights.

Sign Ordinance

The union had sued, claiming the town's sign ordinance violated the First Amendment. The ordinance banned private signs on public ways.

The appeals court said municipalities must be careful about regulating signs, but there was nothing wrong with the town's ordinance. The enforcement officer did not discriminate against the giant rat.

It might have been another story if Scabby were treated differently than other balloon signs, however. For example, a giant Santa Claus or Spider-Man might be another case.

"Indeed, if Santa is sending a message about celebrating the Christmas holiday, or Spider-Man is some form of commercial speech touting a new movie release, the Town might have a hard time explaining why they are permissible and Scabby is not," Judge Diane Wood wrote for the court.

Different Signs

The appeals panel declined to address other issues because they were premature. The union has not tried to resurrect Scabby, and the town didn't deflate him.

According to reports, however, other federal courts have a different take on the problem. The First Amendment issue, not the rat problem.

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