Reed v. Town of Gilbert

Justia Summary

Gilbert, Arizona prohibits the display of outdoor signs without a permit, but exempts 23 categories. “Ideological Signs,” “communicating a message or ideas” that do not fit in any other category, may be up to 20 square feet and have no placement or time restrictions. “Political Signs,” may be up to 32 square feet and may only be displayed during an election season. “Temporary Directional Signs,” directing the public to a church or other “qualifying event,” are limited to six square feet and may be displayed no more than 12 hours before and one hour after the “qualifying event.” The Church held services at various temporary locations. It posted signs early each Saturday bearing its name and the time and location of the next service and did not remove the signs until midday Sunday. It was cited for exceeding the time limits and for failing to include an event date. The Ninth Circuit upheld the sign categories as content neutral , surviving intermediate scrutiny. The Supreme Court reversed. The code is content-based on its face. It defines categories of temporary, political, and ideological signs on the basis of their messages and subjects each category to different restrictions. A law that is content-based on its face is subject to strict scrutiny regardless of benign motive, content-neutral justification, or lack of “animus toward the ideas contained.” While the law does not single out any viewpoint, the First Amendment’s hostility to content-based regulation extends to prohibition of public discussion of an entire topic. The code singles out specific subject matter, even if it does not target viewpoints within that subject matter. The restrictions do not survive strict scrutiny; the town has not demonstrated that differentiation between temporary directional signs and other signs furthers a compelling governmental interest and is narrowly tailored to that end.

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