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A ruling in Nevada has national implications and has paved the way for billboards "Palin for President 2012" to be erected along Highway 101 in San Carlos, California.

A federal judge has ordered the city to stop enforcing part of its sign ordinance, in response to a lawsuit that the law violates free speech rights.  The lawsuit was filed by Nevada resident Jeffrey Herson, who applied to erect a large sign on Highway 101 with the “Sarah Palin for President 2012” and a "No on Measure C, November 4, 2012" message on the other side.

Herson's suit alleges that in denying his application Sept. 4, the city essentially offered greater protection to commercial speech than political speech in violation of the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The sign ordinance restricts the size of political signs to 32 square feet or smaller unless the city's architectural review committee approves a larger size. Herson proposed building a pole sign with a face 14 feet high and 48 feet across.  The ordinance also says political signs cannot be erected sooner than 60 days before an election and must be taken down seven days after the election.

The lawsuit, which also lists California-based East Bay Outdoor Inc. as a plaintiff, points out that other types of signs, including those indicating the location or direction of a place and "community activity signs," do not have size or time limitations.  "San Carlos treats political speech differently than other speech," said Alan Herson, the plaintiff's father and the attorney representing him in the case. "It has it backwards. Political speech is the most protected speech under the First Amendment."

In a temporary restraining order issued Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel said the lawsuit is likely to succeed on the claim that the city's ordinance "singles out political speech for special treatment and appears to place greater burdens on it than on commercial speech and non-political noncommercial speech."  Patel also said the city appears to grant government officials "unfettered discretion to determine who may or may not speak by failing to impose sufficient objective standards and by allowing for an unlimited time for the city's review."

The judge ordered the city to stop enforcing restrictions on the size or timing of political signs and to accept Jeffrey Herson's application.  He submitted a second application this week, and the city is reviewing it, said David Rosenbaum, an attorney for the city.

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