Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Circuit Unplugs Upper West Side Peace Sign

MANHATTAN (CN) — For a Manhattan designer trying to shine pacifist ideals from the window of her historic 17th-story apartment, the Second Circuit cut the lights Friday, providing no justice, no peace.

Unanimously affirming dismissal of the case, the federal appeals court said First Amendment rights do not trump zoning regulations that bar Manhattan clothing designer Brigitte Vosse from subjecting neighbors of the iconic Ansonia building to a neon red peace sign.

Vosse's attorney Gideon Oliver noted that this decision could spell trouble for New Yorkers feeling the holiday spirit, if they live in a high-rise.

"The bottom line is that most New Yorkers would be surprised to learn that displaying an illuminated jack-o'-lantern, menorah or Christmas wreath from their window ... could subject them to significant fines," Oliver said in a phone interview.

Vosse first hung the display on her living room alcove window in December 2010. Court papers say she was protesting "war as a solution to human problems — including [her] disagreement with American military policies with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan."

The following year, however, Vosse received a notice that she had violated zoning regulations for the Upper West Side that bar illuminated signs higher than 40 feet from the ground.

Siding with the city in 2015, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff found that the regulations represented content-neutral "time, place, and manner" restrictions permitted under the Bill of Rights.

Just over a week after hearing Vosse's appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed Friday.

"The parties therefore agree that Vosse is free to display the same sign in her window, as long as it is not illuminated," the 2-page order states. "Although Vosse argues that an unilluminated sign would be harder for passers-by to see at night, the First Amendment 'does not guarantee the right to communicate one's views at all times and places or in any manner that may be desired.'"

Vosse faces an $800 penalty. Her attorney said Vosse is disappointed but would not reveal whether they plan to appeal.

With Halloween just around the corner, Oliver warned that "everyone should beware and check the zoning regulations, especially this time of year."

New York City Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci applauded the decision.

"We are pleased that the court agreed the city has a legitimate interest in preserving neighborhood character and that Ms. Vosse has a number of other ways to communicate her message," Paolucci said.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.