Rhode Island Affiliate, American Civil Liberties Union


Free Speech Court Cases

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The First Amendment right of free speech is fundamental to American democracy. The RI ACLU protects this right through litigation that fights censorship and defends the right to petition the government.

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Beacon Commications, Inc. and the Rhode Island Press Association v. Kilmartin


A lawsuit challenging a state law that has been interpreted to bar the media from running advertisements containing the names and photographs of public officials without their permission. The lawsuit argues that the statute “has an impermissible and unconstitutional chilling effect on free speech and on the free exchange of ideas” in violation of the First Amendment.
News Release | News Release | Lawsuit

Jones v. Town of West Warwick. (2008-2009)

FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Federal lawsuit sucessfully challenging both a town ordinance that significantly limits the posting of political signs, and the town’s discriminatory enforcement of the ordinance against the plaintiff. Cooperating Attorney: Richard A. Sinapi
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Vono v. Capaldi. (2005-2009)

FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Federal lawsuit challenging a state ban on industrial zone outdoor advertising unless the advertising relates to “on premises” activity. Motions for summary judgment were filed in 2007, and a decision is awaited. Cooperating Attorney: John W. Dineen
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Lynch v. Lead Paint Industries. (2008)

FREEDOM OF SPEECH. “Friend of the court” brief opposing the imposition of fines on the Attorney General for violating a “gag rule” issued during the highly-publicized “lead paint nuisance case.” The R.I. Supreme Court overturned the sanctions. Cooperating Attorney: Amy R. Tabor
News Relase

Driver v. Town of Richmond. (2007-2008)

FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Federal lawsuit challenging a town’s actions in repeatedly removing a political candidate’s signs from private property. The court ruled unconstitutional the statute under which the actions were purportedly taken, and the defendants thereafter agreed to an award of damages and attorneys’ fees. Cooperating Attorney: Richard A. Sinapi
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Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) v. Town of East Greenwich. (2006-2008)

FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Federal lawsuit challenging a town ordinance barring door-to-door solicitation after 7 PM and requiring licensing of all solicitors, including those for non-profit organizations. The court preliminarily upheld the restrictions. On appeal, the appellate court remanded the case for further hearings. The suit was thereafter voluntarily dismissed. Cooperating Attorney: Carolyn A. Mannis
News Release | Lawsuit

Women’s Studies Organization of Rhode Island College v. Rhode Island College. (2006-2007)

FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Federal lawsuit challenging both the college’s censorship of a campus sign display supporting reproductive freedom that was sponsored by a student women’s rights group and the constitutionality of a sign policy that the college adopted in response to the incident. In settlement of the case, the defendants agreed to adopt a new uniform sign policy, and to pay damages and attorneys’ fees. Cooperating Attorney: Jennifer Azevedo
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Bilodeau v. Daly-LaBelle. (2006)

SLAPP SUIT. Defense representation of a South Kingstown resident sued for defamation by a political candidate for distributing a political flyer critical of the candidate. Shortly after a counter-claim was filed under the state’s SLAPP suit law, the plaintiff agreed to drop the suit. Cooperating Attorney: Karen Davidson
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Laffey v. Begin. (2005)

FREEDOM OF SPEECH. “Friend of the court” brief challenging a state Board of Elections’ ruling that the hosting of a radio talk show by Cranston’s Mayor constituted an illegal campaign contribution under state election law. The defendant agreed not to enforce the ruling pending lower court consideration of state law issues raised by the case. The suit was then voluntarily dismissed after the plaintiff formally declared his candidacy for a U.S. Senate seat. Cooperating Attorney: Carolyn A. Mannis
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R.I. ACLU v. Begin. (2004-2006)

FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of various aspects of Rhode Island’s campaign finance law, and the Board of Elections’ interpretations of the law, that impermissibly restrict the rights of individuals and entities to campaign on ballot referenda questions. The court struck down various provisions of the statute, and attorneys fees have also been awarded. Cooperating Attorney: Howard Merten
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Free Speech Cases Over the Years

Highlights from court cases since the early 1970s in each of the areas below:

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