Blog

  • Local Signs Get National Attention (USSCt)

    January 13, 2015

    The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday about a municipal sign ordinance which includes provisions found in many local suburbs.  This case could provide guidance to towns dealing with the difficult balance of controlling the proliferation of temporary parkway signs while avoiding legal challenges.

    In the case (Reed v. Town of Gilbert) the Arizona municipality had various exemptions and different restrictions for political, ideological and event signs.  A local church repeatedly contested the restrictions regarding the size and time limitations on signs for their church services — emphasizing the more favorable treatment for other types of signage.  When the lower court’s decision in favor of the Town was appealed, many professional and church associations filed amicus briefs which demonstrated the significance of the issues for government regulation generally and all outdoor advertising controls.

    The Supreme Court began oral arguments with the broad issues of Constitutionality and standards for review of commercial and “non-commercial” expression.  But the discussion eventually turned to questions about the applicability and impact of the particular local ordinance.  By the end of the questioning, the Justices did not seem convinced by the purported intentions of the town to control weekend clutter while allowing for political and directional signs. The oral argument can be found at http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/13-502_d1pf.pdf

    There’s an old legal saying that “bad facts make bad law.” This instance may be a such an example.  Yet all varieties of temporary signs ( including real estate, event, and feather flags) will now be open for reconsideration.  In any event, communities will want to anticipate some degree of changes and challenges to their local ordinances when the USSCt opinion is published in the coming months.

    For an interesting overview of the Supreme Court discussion see:  http://www.npr.org/2015/01/12/376788864/supreme-court-hears-arguments-in-sign-regulation-case

    1