In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its first decision specifically focusing on sign regulations in more than 20 years.
A recap of the case
Reed v. Town of Gilbert (Ariz.) stemmed from a church’s use of temporary directional signs. Since the services were held in different venues each week, these signs let people know the location of the meeting. The town’s sign code limited how long these kinds of signs could be displayed and their size. Other types of temporary signs - including those with political and ideological messages - could be much larger and displayed far longer.
The court unanimously found that placing limits on temporary directional signs that were more stringent than these other types of temporary signs was a content-based regulation of speech—a violation of the First Amendment.
While the court’s ruling was unanimous, some justices differed with the majority’s written opinion and offered their own concurring opinions.
What ISA is doing
In the aftermath of Reed, ISA has educated thousands of planners and other local officials about the case and ways that a community can ensure that its sign regulations are content-neutral. This includes sessions at the APA National Planning Conference in 2016, 2017 and 2019, sessions at thirteen state or regional APA chapter events, two webinars and resources from the Sign Research Foundation (SRF).
These resources include:
The Supreme Court ruling in Reed v. Gilbert will only intensify our efforts to positively influence sign codes throughout the United States. We will continue working with local officials to help guide them using our expertise and perspective. We’ll use SRF’s resources as we continue to provide education for planners and local officials.