Sign code as a weapon
A drearily familiar dialectic is on display here: Government is behaving badly in order to silence protests of other bad behavior. It is violating the Constitution's First Amendment, stifling speech about its violation of the Fifth Amendment, as it was properly construed until 2005.
Founded in 1934, Central Radio maintains communication, sonar and camera equipment on vessels at Norfolk Naval Station. The business is located in a building near the waterfront. Company Vice President Kelly Dickinson says, “We can drive five minutes and be on board a ship.”
But Old Dominion University is nearby and covetous. It wants the land on which Central Radio sits and, through ODU's Real Estate Foundation, is well along toward seizing it by inciting the city government to wield the power of eminent domain. Condemnation proceedings against Central Radio have moved to the compensation phase.
Dickinson says the compensation will be insufficient to enable the business to construct a comparable building, let alone buy land for it. ODU is exploiting the judicial evisceration of the Fifth Amendment's takings clause, the history of which is this:
The Constitution's authors said property may be taken for “public” uses, meaning things — roads, bridges, buildings, etc. — directly owned by government and used by the general public. In 1954, however, the Supreme Court expanded the category of “public use” to include the “public purpose” of curing “blight,” a concept of enormous elasticity when wielded by rapacious city governments. In 2005, in the Kelo case, the court held that a city government can seize an unblighted neighborhood for the supposed “public” purpose of turning it over to a private business that would be a richer source of tax revenues for the taking government.
In this appalling decision, the majority serenely said governments could be restrained by public opinion aroused against abuses of eminent domain. Now, however, Norfolk's government is suppressing Central Radio's speech protesting what the city is doing.
In their desperation, the company's executives hung from their building a 375-square-foot banner proclaiming: 50 YEARS ON THIS STREET; 78 YEARS IN NORFOLK; 100 WORKERS; THREATENED BY EMINENT DOMAIN! In the banner's corner is a circle with a red slash through the words “Eminent Domain Abuse.”
Today that circle is all that is visible. The city says the size of the full sign violates Norfolk's sign code.
Norfolk's behavior is unconstitutional because the city's sign code has been capriciously enforced. The sign code is suddenly being more evenhandedly enforced but only because, a city official has admitted, since Central Radio began protesting, “people are watching.”
We have seen this before. A few years ago, a St. Louis man whose property was being seized under Kelo's permission for government theft adorned his building with a sign similar in size and message to Central Radio's. The city government tried to silence him with sign restrictions as flawed and capriciously enforced as Norfolk's.
The St. Louis man trounced the city in his sign dispute, helped by the Institute for Justice, a little platoon of libertarian litigators who roam the country putting leashes on misbehaving governments. Because IJ is representing Central Radio's First Amendment rights, Norfolk may have to content itself with traducing only one rather than two provisions of the Bill of Rights.
George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Brawl for ADs between Pitt and WVU
- Fleury’s career-best 6th shutout lifts Penguins over Avalanche in overtime
- Veteran tight end Miller’s blocking skill crucial to success to Steelers running game
- With Pittsburgh charges, feds target Uganda-based counterfeiting ring
- Steelers must be creative in providing snaps for linebackers
- Analysis: Misunderstood Chryst served Pitt well
- Pitt offensive coordinator Rudolph still focused on Panthers
- Time is of essence for Pitt in finding football coach, athletic director
- Steelers notebook: Chiefs pass rush to test Steelers
- 11 Westmoreland inmates accused of setting fire put in solitary confinement
- Assistant at Duke eyes Pitt football job