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Reed v. Town of Gilbert Supreme Court Ruling Affects Local Sign Codes
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Reed political signs

Summary: Many local governments and lawyers are discovering that the sign codes are borderline unconstitutional and need to be revised after the ruling on Reed.

Government regulations on signs have long been a source of problems with the lawyers that litigate over them saying that some sign ordinances are a little unconstitutional when it comes to issues of freedom of speech.


On June 18th, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Reed v. Town of Gilbert made it clear that there was a “strict scrutiny” First Amendment standard where governments cannot treat some signs better or worse than others.

Gilbert, Arizona had a sign ordinance that was gave freedom to some signs but severely restricted others such as a directional signs that at local church was using temporarily to direct attendees. Gilbert claimed that the denied the signs because they wanted to reduce clutter and support traffic safety.

This ruling has urged lawyers to review the sign codes for local governments. It is expected that the Reed ruling will affect signage for the political campaigns during the presidential election next year. The ruling could also be used in other First Amendment litigations that are not solely related to signage problems.

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Robert Frommer, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice stated, “Reed is a game-changing opinion that will increase speech protections for a wide class of speakers. Thousands of sign codes are now constitutionally suspect.” The Institute plans on working with local governments to help them bring their sign codes up to date.

A common code problem is for the size and duration of signs that restrict political campaign signs but not real estate signs. Many codes also limit the display of national flags but not sports teams or club banners.




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