First The City Sought To Take Away His Property, Now It Wants to Silence His Speech
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT: William R. Maurer
March 28, 2008
Arlington, Va.—Should the federal courts help the City of St. Louis violate free speech and property rights? That is the question posed to a federal court this week in a countersuit filed by the city against Jim Roos, a longtime activist against eminent domain abuse.
In a continued attack on fundamental constitutional freedoms, the City of St. Louis wants to shut down Jim’s protest of its long history of eminent domain abuse: a mural painted on the side of a building targeted for eminent domain abuse that is visible from a heavily traveled highway. The same bureaucrats now threatening Jim Roos’s free speech rights are also threatening to take away the property on which the mural is painted for private development. The city’s lawsuit requests a federal judge to order the mural removed and to fine or sanction Jim if he does not remove it.
“The city’s countersuit is unfortunately indicative of how many governments disregard both property rights and free speech,” said William Maurer, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm representing Jim in his battle to protect constitutional liberties. “The Supreme Court in its awful Kelo decision said that the primary defense for Americans to stop land grabs for private gain is the political process. St. Louis’s actions against Jim Roos show that the governments that don’t respect your right to own property won’t respect your right of free speech either.”
This case began when Jim–fed up with seeing the well-maintained affordable housing he owns and manages face condemnation for private development–fought back. He helped found the Missouri Eminent Domain Abuse Coalition and has been an advocate for reform of Missouri’s eminent domain laws. Jim constructed a large anti-eminent domain abuse mural on a property targeted for future condemnation to make way for a private development project.
After the mural appeared in March, St. Louis bureaucrats told Jim he must apply for a permit because of local “sign codes.” The city denied his application. Jim appealed and was denied again. He then filed an appeal and civil rights claim in court seeking a determination of the constitutionality of the city’s ability to shut down protests of its policies.
“I followed all the procedures the city set up to keep this mural, even those procedures that the city later admitted were illegal,” Jim said. “Now they have sued me, even though I filed timely appeals to protect my rights. This is another example of the lengths to which St. Louis will go to keep people from knowing about the city’s abuse of eminent domain.”
Maurer concluded, “We will continue to fight to protect the rights of Missourians to remain secure in their homes and businesses and to speak out when the government violates their rights. Simply put, all Americans should be able to protest government abuse and they should not be sued in federal court for exercising this fundamental right.”