Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Is Reed v. Town of Gilbert an important sign case?

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Reed v. Town of Gilbert.  SCOTUSblog has the docs here.  The case boils down to regulation of temporary directional signs for a church.  An amicus brief from some law profs argues that the petitioners' argument would "sharply deviate from this Court’s precedents and risk eroding the critical distinction between content-based speech restrictions and content-neutral ones."  NPR had a story here.

While any Supreme Court case is important, I have to say that I am personally underwhelmed at the Court's decision to grant cert to this case.  Of all the sign cases the Court has had the opportunity to grant cert on in the last five years or so, this seems the least relevant to the major issues the sign world faces.  To my mind, the big issues are: (i) creating a more coherent regulatory structure than Metromedia and its progeny, which all sides in the sign world would seemingly desire; and (ii) addressing situations where cities ban general advertising signs (also called off-site signs) on private property and then bid out advertising on public property in a winner-take-all RFP.  Gilbert won't address either.

Perhaps even the Court recognizes that Metromedia is a mess; perhaps the Court doesn't have anything better than Metromedia in the offing.  And so, what clarity can be derived in the sign world this term will have to come from Gilbert.  Whatever Gilbert does for sign law, I can't help but believe the Court granted cert to the wrong case if it wanted to clarify what is murky in sign law right now.

Stephen R. Miller



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The amicus curie in this case is a bit mirky, but the Supreme Court did attempt to clear the waters, which will give some material speech to Free Speech, and help those of us who blog to feel more at ease in our right to blog. I therefore support the ruling in this case.

Posted by: Timothy Wayne George | Jan 14, 2015 5:00:26 AM