Must All Signs Be the Same?

The Supreme Court’s decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona could upset sign codes nationally.5554035521_f6b59ccafa_n  Most sign codes, like Gilbert’s, include different categories of temporary signs.  It makes sense, for example, to give people more time to remove thousands of election signs and less time to remove a few yard sale signs.  In this case the Court will decide whether local governments may regulate temporary directional signs differently than other temporary signs.  The Court could rule, practically speaking, that all temporary signs must have the same time, place, and manner requirements.  IMLA joined the State and Local Legal Center’s (SLLC) amicus brief asking the Court not to go that far.

Gilbert’s Sign Code includes temporary directional signs, political signs, and ideological signs.  After being notified that its temporary directional signs announcing the time and location of church services were displayed longer than allowed, the Good News church sued Gilbert.  The church claimed Gilbert’s Sign Code violates the First Amendment because temporary directional signs receive the less favorable treatment (in terms of size, location, duration, etc.) than political signs and ideological signs. Continue reading


The Supreme Court Strikes Down Buffer Zone Law

BarricadeA local government can create a 35-foot buffer zone to restrict speech on a public street only if it has first made a serious effort to address the issue in other ways.

That’s the lesson of McCullen v. Coakley, the Supreme-Court decision today that strikes down a Massachusetts statute that makes it a crime to knowingly stand on a public way or sidewalk within 35 feet of a location where abortions are performed.

Although the Court found that the law is content-neutral—and therefore not subject to strict scrutiny—the Court ruled that the Commonwealth had “too readily foregone options” that would not substantially burden speech.

What are those options? Continue reading


Monday Morning Review: Local Governments in the Federal Appellate Courts

Here are last week’s published decisions involving local governments:SCT stairs

Second Circuit

Fourth Circuit


Eighth Circuit: Restricting Bible Distribution During Festival Likely Violates First Amendment

8th Circuit: Park did not adequately justify the need to limit literature distribution

8th Circuit: Park did not adequately justify the need to limit literature distribution

An evangelical Christian, Brian Johnson, sought to distribute Bibles at a gay-pride festival in a public park.

The park board would not allow it.

It had adopted a policy limiting literature distribution to confined areas, due to security concerns and the festival’s size.

Johnson claimed the policy violated the First Amendment, and sought an injunction barring its enforcement. In a 2-1 decision released Wednesday, Johnson v. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Bd., the Eighth Circuit ruled that Johnson would likely prevail on his claim.

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How To Close a First Amendment Public Forum: Does a Local Government’s Intent Matter?

Fourth Circuit: a local government can “close” a public forum with a neutral policy, regardless of its intent.

Fourth Circuit: a local government can “close” a public forum with a neutral policy, regardless of its intent.

Your City has flag standards on light poles. They line the City streets.

For over 15 years, you have allowed private parties to use this property to place their own flags.

Now you have a problem.

A group wants to use this City property to fly the Confederate flag during a City parade. The public is fiercely opposed.

After your City council first approved the request, it changed course. Its new policy restricts flag-standard use to three flags: the American, State, and City flags.

The group sued. It claimed that the City’s change violates its First Amendment rights.

Can you successfully defend the City’s policy?

In a similar case, the Fourth Circuit recently said yes.

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