On June 18th, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on ‘REED ET AL. v. TOWN OF GILBERT, ARIZONA, ET AL. ‘. The case was brought against the Town of Gilbert after their code enforcement issued two citations against the Clyde Reed and the Good News Community Church for leaving their directional signs out more than one hour past the end of service.
The Town argued that the ordinances were not content based as their codes were based on the purpose (election signs, directional signs, ideological signs among a total of 23 categories of temporary signage) instead of a specific message. The Supreme Court decided that purpose is in itself is a type of communications. As written in the majority opinion:
We hold that these provisions are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny.
On its face, the Sign Code is a content-based regulation of speech. We thus have no need to consider the government’s justifications or purposes for enacting the Code to determine whether it is subject to strict scrutiny.
So, what does that mean for you as a business?
1There will still be rules
I know, you’ve got that dream for that 200-foot high sign in neon with your logo that can be seen from space. Don’t we all? Don’t go hiring that contractor just yet. The ruling doesn’t mean that local governments can’t have any rules, only that the rules can’t be different based on the sign’s purpose.
2Most Signs Won’t be Impacted
In general, most signage laws are concerned with format (dimensions, maintenance, illumination). Since these laws do not differentiate on content, they will likely stay in place. If you look at your local government’s signage laws, look for areas that specify content, such as ‘Political Campaign Signs’ and ‘Real Estate Signs’.
3Expect a lot of changes
Most content-specific laws focus around temporary signs, like those you may use on the road side to give directions or a street sign you may put out on the sidewalk to display your lunch specials. Many of these laws will be challenged in the coming months, changed, and replaced with laws that will apply to temporary signs more generally.
4You’ll have a lot more flexibility
If you carefully read your local codes to determine where your current sign plans are content-based, and have the patience to educate your local code enforcement officials, you should be able to get a lot more flexibility round the dimensions, placement, and duration of signs, especially temporary signage.
5Expect more of the same
In the end, the rules will be replaced with something very similar and possibly even a little stricter as communities will attempt to put back in place similar laws but now without being able to use the type of signs to make them different. By signing up to Voterheads, you can monitor upcoming signage laws being considered so you can have a chance to influence your elected officials.
While we’re pretty amazing, we’re not lawyers, so we aren’t giving you legal advice, just our editorial opinion. Want legal opinion? Ask a lawyer…or a judge… or your friend’s uncle’s lawyer.. just not us.