Constitutional Litigation Clinic Wins Landmark Decision Guaranteeing Free Speech Rights to Residents of Homeowner Associations
February 07, 2006 –The Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division, in an historic opinion with national significance, has affirmed the argument by the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers School of Law–Newark that the more than one million New Jerseyans who live in private communities governed by homeowner associations have fundamental free speech rights under the State Constitution. The plaintiffs, home owners in the 10,000-resident community of Twin Rivers in East Windsor, NJ, won the right to post political signs on lawns, have equal access to the community newspaper, and have equitable access to the community room for meetings for dissident members of the homeowner association.
Professor Frank Askin, founder and director of the Constitutional Litigation Clinic, was lead counsel on the case, Committee for a Better Twin Rivers et al. v. Twin Rivers Homeowners’ Association et al. In commenting on the unanimous decision, Askin said, “For the first time anywhere in the United States, an appellate court has ruled that such private communities are ‘constitutional actors’ and must therefore respect their members’ freedom of speech. The Court recognized that, just as shopping malls are the new public square, these associations have become and act, for all practical purposes, like municipal entities unto themselves.” Askin added that the outcome of the case is of significant interest to the more than 50 million Americans who live in communities governed by homeowner associations.
The case, originally filed in December 2000, was handled by the Rutgers clinic on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. Dozens of Rutgers law students assisted in the case over the years.