Murtha Means More

June 19, 2015 - Municipal Law Group News: Important Supreme Court Decision on Municipal Regulation of Signs

The U.S. Supreme Court has just released a decision striking down a town’s directional-sign regulations as impermissibly “content based.”  Click here to read a copy of the decision.

The case involved a church’s wish to install a number of directional signs for services it would be holding.  The town’s regulations treated “directional signs” differently from such things as “political signs” and “ideological signs.”  Because the sign distinctions were determined to be “content-based,” the Court ruled that, under First Amendment principles, the regulations had to pass a “strict scrutiny test.”  The “strict scrutiny” test requires the government to have a “compelling interest” in the regulations in order to maintain them. 

However, as one might expect, the only reasons the town could give for the regulations were the prevention of visual clutter and public safety (namely, the same reasons that most towns would give).  The Court found that, even if aesthetics and public safety could be deemed to be compelling interests,  there was no reason to think that a sign conveying one type of content was a bigger threat to aesthetics or public safety than a sign conveying another type of content.

The Court’s decision is not overly long and is worth reading in its entirety. The concurring opinions are interesting, as well as the principal decision.  The fact that there were no actual dissents is also worthy of note.

Please contact Michael A. Zizka at mzizka@murthalaw.com if you have any questions.  

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