The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) announced on April 21, 2022 that the traditional regulatory distinction between on-premises signs and off-premises signs (billboards) is content-neutral under the First Amendment.
A RECAP OF THE CASE
In City of Austin v. Reagan National Advertising of Texas, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had found in August 2020 that Austin’s sign ordinance was in violation of the Reed v. Town of Gilbert decision. The city’s sign ordinance allowed on-premises digital signs but prohibited digital billboards. The 5th Circuit decided that the difference in the two types of signs was content-based and therefore unconstitutional.
When the city of Austin appealed the 5th Circuit’s decision to SCOTUS, the International Sign Association (ISA) joined Scenic Texas and local chambers of commerce in filing a joint amicus brief urging the court to take up Austin’s case. When SCOTUS took ISA’s advice and granted Austin’s petition for certiorari in July 2021, ISA then wrote and submitted another “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the on-premises sign industry arguing that the Court should overturn the 5th Circuit’s decision.
WHAT ISA IS DOING
ISA has long contended that the traditional regulatory distinction between billboards and on-premises signs is location-based, not content-based, and that local governments should have the ability to treat on-premises signs different from billboards if they thought it was best for their communities.
“We submitted our briefs to educate the Court on the practical and legal differences between on-premises signs and billboards, and to point out the importance of on-premises signs to America’s small businesses, and it appears that the justices took our advice to heart,” said David Hickey, ISA’s vice president of advocacy. “Thanks to the Court’s decision in Austin v. Reagan, we will have regulatory certainty across the country and our industry can continue to succeed and grow.”
ISA continues to monitor these legal developments and analyzing what they mean for the sign and graphics industry, and will keep members and the industry informed as we understand the implications more fully.