On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the City of Austin, Texas’s petition for writ of certiorari in a case that may determine the legal fate of states’ and local governments’ efforts to restrict billboard advertising.
In the case, which we reported on previously, Austin denied permits to two billboard companies that were seeking to convert existing, static billboards to digital signs. The billboard companies challenged, and the city removed to federal court. The district court rejected the billboard companies’ challenge. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the city’s sign code, which prohibited the erection of new off-premises advertising signs (i.e. signs that advertise goods and services that are not available on the property on which the sign is located) and further prohibited technological changes to nonconforming signs, violated the First Amendment. The appeals court concluded that the regulation was content based. Content based laws implicate the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, where the Court determined that laws that regulate the message or subject matter of signs are constitutionally suspect. The appeals court’s holding in the City of Austin case was premised upon the fact that the off-premises advertising restriction related specifically to the content of a sign. Under the sign code, if the sign’s message related to goods and services on the property where the sign was located, it would be permissible; if the message addressed other matters, it would be prohibited. This, the court found, was impermissible.
Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court to Review Austin Billboard Case