TRENTON, N.J. — The state Supreme Court has dealt with gay marriage, education funding and abortion rights — and now, it can add "inflatable rat” to the list. The case is about whether a town can ban a 20-foot inflatable rat.
The super-sized rat — on its hind legs and bearing fangs — had been blown up and displayed at a 2005 labor event in Lawrence Township until police enforced a law that bans banners, streamers and inflatable signs, except those announcing grand openings.
A labor official was fined $100 plus $33 court costs.
The event was staged by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) to protest low wages being paid to electricians by an out-of-area contractor. The rat is a symbol used by organized labor to signal a labor dispute.
A three-judge appeals panel ruled Thursday that Lawrence Township could ban the big black rat and affirmed the labor official’s fines.
However, because the labor official’s claim that the law violates free speech wasn’t completely rejected, the plaintiffs can appeal automatically to the state Supreme Court.
"That’s the silver lining,” said Andrew Watson, a lawyer arguing for the right of a union local to display the rat during a job site protest.