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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Supreme Court Hears Sign Case (Reed v. Gilbert)

We have posted previously about the U.S. Supreme Court's taking on the appeal of the case involving the Town of Gilbert, Arizona's sign regulations as applied to a local church.  Monday, January 12th, the Court heard oral arguments in the case.  There are a lot of opinions out there on how each side fared in the oral argument, and some predictions as to who will ultimately prevail.  

As you may recall from our previous post on this case, the Town of Gilbert's ordinance restricts the time period that temporary signs can be maintained.  It also distinguishes between different types of temporary signs, categorizing them as (1) political signs; (2) event signs; and (3) other noncommercial signs.  A local church, Good News, received a notice of violation for placing about 17 signs in the area surrounding its place of worship in Gilbert announcing the time and location of its services. The notice stated that the signs violated the town’s sign ordinance because “the signs were displayed outside the statutorily-limited time period.” Good News subsequently filed suit in federal court in Arizona alleging that Gilbert’s Sign Code violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The case made its way to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the Town of Gilbert's sign ordinance.  

Based on my read of the Supreme Court's transcript of the oral argument, it seems unlikely that the Court will rule entirely in favor of the Town.  I (and other municipal attorneys) are hopeful, however, that the Court finds a "middle ground" that does not completely obliterate municipal authority to regulate temporary (or other) signs.  I do have concerns about the Justices' questioning of the Town's rationale for its limitations on temporary signs and why political signs were treated differently from other temporary signs.  

Our friend John Hedrick (attorney and planner) has written his thoughts about the oral argument on his blog.  He makes the following statement, which I think is on point:
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.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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