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7th Circuit grapples with unions, free speech, giant rats

CHICAGO (AP) — Enormous rats are making their way through the federal court system. But they’re not wet-nosed, living rodents. They’re rubber, inflatable ones.

Unions deploy such rat replicas outside businesses they have disputes with, and Chicago’s 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this month addressed whether restricting their use violates free-speech rights.

A lower court sided with a Grand Chute, Wis., ruling safety and construction ordinances justified the town’s removal of a 15-foot rat outside a car dealership. Chicago’s higher court nixed that finding and returned the case for further litigation.

Appeals court Judge Richard Posner partially dissented. He called for a decisive finding that the town violated the union’s free-speech rights. He wrote some may find the blow-up rats “repulsive” but that they’re clearly “akin to a political poster,” so they constitute protected speech.

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