In June, ISA alerted members that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could dramatically change the on-premise sign industry.
And now, ISA has filed an amicus brief (commonly known as a "friend of the court" brief) representing the on-premise sign and graphics industry in support of overturning the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision.
In City of Austin v. Reagan National Advertising of Texas, the 5th Circuit found that Austin's sign ordinance was a violation of the SCOTUS 2015 Reed v. Town of Gilbert decision. The city's sign code treated on-premise digital signs differently than off-premise digital signs (billboards). The court found the distinction to be content-based and therefore unconstitutional.
Ever since the Reed ruling, ISA has argued that the traditional regulatory distinction between on-premise signs and billboards is location-based, not content-based.
That's why ISA's amicus brief encourages the court to continue the distinctions that were set in Reed v. Town of Gilbert:
"Instead of adopting the Fifth Circuit's overreaching approach, the Court should use this case to clarify that on-premises/off-premises distinctions remain a reasonable content-neutral manner of regulating signs. The Court should uphold the City of Austin’s regulations as constitutional."
The Supreme Court is expected to hear the Austin vs. Reagan National Advertising of Texas later in 2021, and ISA hopes that its amicus brief will bring information and awareness surrounding this topic to the country's highest court. A ruling likely will not be issued until spring 2022.
If the 5th Circuit's ruling is upheld, the impact on the sign, graphics and visual communications industry and on every community in the United States would be profound. Thousands of local jurisdictions and dozens of states would have to revise their sign regulations to eliminate the distinction. On-premises signs have different business purposes, entail different property rights and undergo different permitting requirements, which is why the distinction has been necessary and worked well. If the distinction is eliminated and all signs must be treated the same by the government, in many instances on-premises signs will get the short end of the stick. And in a worst case scenario, a distinct possibility is that local jurisdictions will simply ban specific types of signs, such as digital signs or pole signs, rather than allow them for certain users or locations.
However, no matter what the ruling, ISA and its team of experts are working every day on behalf of the industry and companies to ensure that sign codes and regulations are reasonable, enforceable and business-friendly.
ISA will continue monitoring these legal developments and analyzing what they mean for the sign and graphics industry, and we will keep our members informed as we understand the implications more fully. Please contact ISA's David Hickey with any questions.