The American Civil Liberties Union hopes a federal judge's ruling yesterday that temporarily barred Ellisville, Mo., from punishing drivers for using their headlights to warn others of speed traps will itself serve as a warning to other cities who try to do the same, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. ACLU Legal Director Tony Rothert said it was the first federal court ruling on the issue anywhere. “It is legal in Missouri to communicate in this manner,” he said, “and detaining, ticketing or arresting someone for the content of their speech is illegal.”
U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey's preliminary injunction says that Michael Elli would likely prevail in a free speech lawsuit against Ellisville. Autrey's ruling says that the officer “did not have reasonable suspicion to believe that Plaintiff had violated any law” and that it is not illegal to warn drivers “because a speed trap is ahead.” The ACLU sued on behalf of Elli and other drivers last year, saying that drivers using their headlights to communicate about a speed trap — or another reason to proceed with caution — are protected by the First Amendment. Rothert said that after Elli's suit, they heard from drivers that other jurisdictions in Missouri and Illinois were also ticketing drivers for warning of speed traps.