A billboard company’s challenge to the Troy, Michigan sign variance standards–which we reported on three years ago–has now resulted in an appellate decision that has the potential to greatly change commercial speech regulation as we know it. Two weeks ago, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the city’s sign code was an unconstitutional prior restraint and was content-based in its regulation of temporary signs. The most remarkable aspect of the decision, however, was the court’s conclusion that any content-based commercial sign regulation should now be subjected to strict scrutiny analysis, which is nearly always fatal to a sign regulation.
The Troy sign ordinance allows property owners to post one ground sign of up to 12 feet in height and not exceeding 100 square feet, plus one additional ground sign, so long as the second sign is set back 200 feet from a right-of-way, is no more than 25 feet tall, does not exceed 300 square feet in area, and is not less than 1,000 feet from any other sign exceeding 100 square feet. International Outdoor sought to install 672-square-foot, double-sided advertising signs in Troy that did not meet the foregoing requirements and sought a variance. The criteria used by the city’s appeals board were threefold: “(1) the variance would not be contrary to the public interest or general purpose and intent of this Chapter; and (2) the variance does not adversely affect properties in the immediate vicinity of the proposed sign; and (3) the petitioner has a hardship or practical difficulty resulting from the unusual characteristics of the property that precludes reasonable use of the property.” The board denied the variance for failure to meet the criteria. Continue Reading In Billboard Company’s Challenge to a Michigan Sign Ordinance, the Sixth Circuit Finds That Content-Based Commercial Speech Regulations Are Now Subject to Strict Scrutiny