Stepping beyond the strict confines of sign law this week, we turn to a Texas case exploring new boundaries in First Amendment law: regulations on drone footage.  Late last month, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas struck down those regulations as unconstitutional speaker-based restrictions that were also impermissibly vague.

By statute

“Love letters” will live a little longer in Oregon real estate transactions after the federal district court in Portland issued a preliminary injunction on a new state law banning the practice.

In a real estate market where multiple buyers compete for seemingly every home, creativity can afford an edge.  So it is that real estate agents often encourage “love letters” from buyers to sellers—those hand-crafted notes explaining (more or less) that the seller’s home is the stuff of dreams and would receive care and affection only if sold to the letter writers.

Evidence suggests these letters do in fact give buyers an edge.  It also suggests that they can inject discrimination against protected classes, as sellers, consciously or not, select buyers who share their own traits.  Worried that love letters were perpetuating biases and historic discrimination, the Oregon legislature banned the practice in 2021, in a law that limited brokers to exchanging nothing more than the “customary documents.”

Real estate brokerage Total Real Estate Group challenged the law in federal court, alleging that it abridged
Continue Reading Oregon Ban on Real Estate “Love Letters” Enjoined

University City, Missouri, home to Washington University and the Loop, a buzzy restaurant and theater district bordering the City of St. Louis, recently survived a challenge to its ordinance prohibiting activities that obstructed sidewalks and walkways.  That victory followed litigation against an earlier ordinance that had prohibited a much broader, vaguer set of activities, like “tending to hinder or impede the free and uninterrupted passage of … pedestrians” and remaining stationary in a public sidewalk while engaged in speech or performance.  The original ordinance also prohibited musical performances on private property without a permit.

Diners enjoying an evening in the Loop, presumably without a permit. (Image in the public domain.)

After several street performers challenged the original ordinance, the city amended it to add
Continue Reading St. Louis Suburb Wins Some, Loses Some in Challenge to Ordinance Regulating Sidewalk Obstructions and Street Performances

One of the trickier aspects of First Amendment jurisprudence has always been deciding whether and when conduct receives constitutional protection.  Regulations that involve words or speech are easy enough.  But does the First Amendment protect the heap of garbage your neighbor piled in his front lawn to protest the city’s tardy trash collection?  (Probably, but the city can constitutionally regulate it anyway.)  Does the Constitution care if you want to direct a spotlight against your neighbor’s home to express your displeasure with his trash heap?  (Harder to say, but probably not.)  These and other questions continue to vex courts assessing the First Amendment’s reach.

Enter Donald Burns and his quest to build a massive midcentury mansion amidst minimally more modest mansions in Palm Beach, Florida.  (We’ve reported on his effort before.)  Palm Beach considers itself “a worldwide synonym for beauty, quality and value,” and to preserve that reputation, it applies architectural review to new homes.  Its standards observe that the “essential foundation of beauty in communities is harmony” and therefore prohibit structures that are too dissimilar from the surrounding buildings.

Dissatisfied with his 10,000 square-foot mansion, Burns approached Palm Beach about replacing it with a
Continue Reading 11th Circuit: First Amendment Doesn’t Protect Florida Man’s Proposed Midcentury Mansion Because No One Can See It

Some things go together: funnel cakes, summer crowds, and street vendors, for instance.  The prospect of eternal damnation, on the other hand, tends to dampen the mood.  So it was that several Davenport, Iowa police officers escorted street preacher Cory Sessler out of the city’s long-running “Street Fest,” leaving him to condemn the throngs from

Today, we depart from our regularly scheduled sign-litigation programming to explore a development in the realm of Anti-SLAPP statutes—laws protecting the public from “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.”

If you’re already familiar with Anti-SLAPP statutes, skip ahead to the next paragraph.  If you aren’t, here’s a primer:  SLAPP suits prototypically arise when more powerful organizations

Recent litigation against the city of Fort Worth has once again confirmed that localities should steer clear of content-based sign codes and free-wheeling approval processes.  Dallas’s neighbor learned that lesson after a federal district court struck down portions of its regulations, concluding they were both content-based and a prior restraint, and also unable to survive strict scrutiny.

The case arose from plaintiff Brookes Baker’s efforts to place crosses in the city right-of-way alongside an abortion clinic.
Continue Reading Federal District Court Strikes Down Fort Worth’s Prohibition and Exemption Scheme for Materials in the Right-of-Way

As a company that sells advertising space on benches in public areas, Bench Billboard Company has a long and storied litigation history against municipalities in Ohio and Kentucky.  In this most recent iteration, the BBC challenged the constitutionality of Colerain Township’s (a Cincinnati suburb) restriction on signage in its right of way after the Township

Simi Valley, California, like many cities, bans mobile advertising displays on public streets.  It also, however, exempts certain authorized vehicles from the general ban.  The district court considered that scheme a permissible content-neutral regulation of speech and dismissed plaintiff Bruce Boyer’s complaint challenging its constitutionality.

A mobile billboard roaming the streets. Source: Wikimedia Commons, SammySosaa

Last month, the Ninth Circuit reversed in a published opinion reasoning that Simi Valley’s authorized vehicle exemption amounted to a speaker-based—and in turn, content-based—regulation.  Following that conclusion, it returned the case to the district court for further proceedings to determine whether
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Holds California City’s Mobile Advertising Ban Content-Based, Subject to Strict Scrutiny