This one seems small, but it has large implications.
It seems that a motorist in Ellisville, MO, flashed his headlights at oncoming motorists to warn them of a speed trap. An Ellisville police officer saw that and, in keeping with the city’s policy of suppressing such warnings, promptly arrested the motorist, who then faced a $1,000 fine and points against his driver’s license toward its suspension.
During the course of the motorist’s subsequent lawsuit over this violation of his 1st Amendment right, the city recognized the error of its policy and eliminated it.
Federal Judge Henry Autrey remained unimpressed, though, as he ruled against the city and for the motorist. In his ruling, Autrey wrote that flashing one’s headlights
sends a message to bring one’s driving in conformity with the law—whether it be by slowing down, turning on one’s own headlamps at dusk or in the rain, or proceeding with caution.
There’s not even anything controversial about that form of speech. Autrey also wrote, on the matter of Ellisville having corrected its policy,
The chilling effect of Ellisville’s policy and custom of having its police officers pull over, detain, and cite individuals who are perceived as having communicated to oncoming traffic by flashing their headlamps and then prosecuting and imposing fines upon those individuals remains, regardless….
Indeed. The formality of the ruling was necessary to alleviate a bit of that effect.