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Reed v. Town of Gilbert

Supreme Court of the United States

January 12, 2015, Argued; June 18, 2015, Decided

No. 13-502


 [*2224]  Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.

The town of Gilbert, Arizona (or Town), has adopted a comprehensive code governing the manner in which people may display outdoor signs. Gilbert, Ariz., Land Development Code (Sign Code or Code), ch. 1, §4.402 (2005). 1 The Sign Code identifies various categories of signs based on the type of information they convey, then subjects each category to different restrictions. One of the categories is “Temporary Directional Signs Relating to a Qualifying Event,” loosely defined as signs directing the public to a meeting of a nonprofit group. §4.402(P). The Code imposes more stringent restrictions on these signs than it does on signs conveying other messages. We hold that these provisions are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny.

The Sign Code prohibits the display of outdoor signs anywhere within the Town without a permit, but it then  [**243]  exempts 23 categories of signs from that requirement. These exemptions include everything from bazaar signs to flying banners. Three categories of exempt signs are particularly relevant here.

The first is “Ideological Sign[s].” This category includes any “sign communicating a message or ideas for noncommercial purposes that is not a Construction Sign, Directional Sign, Temporary Directional Sign Relating to a Qualifying Event, Political Sign, Garage Sale Sign, or a sign owned or required by a governmental agency.” Sign Code, Glossary of General Terms (Glossary), p. 23 (emphasis deleted). Of the three categories discussed here, the Code treats ideological signs most favorably, allowing them to be up to 20 square feet in area and to be placed in all “zoning districts” without time limits. §4.402(J).

The second category is “Political Sign[s].” This includes any “temporary sign designed to influence the outcome of an election called by a public body.” Glossary 23. 2 The Code treats these signs less favorably than ideological signs. [***9]  The Code allows the placement of political signs up to 16 square feet on residential property and up to 32 square feet on nonresidential property, undeveloped municipal property, and “rights-of-way.”  [*2225]  §4.402(I). 3 These signs may be displayed up to 60 days before a primary election and up to 15 days following a general election. Ibid.

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135 S. Ct. 2218 *; 192 L. Ed. 2d 236 **; 2015 U.S. LEXIS 4061 ***; 83 U.S.L.W. 4444; 25 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 383

CLYDE REED, et al., Petitioners v. TOWN OF GILBERT, ARIZONA, et al.

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.


Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 707 F.3d 1057, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 2715 (9th Cir. Ariz., 2013)

Disposition:  Judgment reversed and case remanded. 9-0 Decision; 3 concurrences.


signs, regulation, strict scrutiny, content-based, temporary, message, content based, viewpoint, Church, restrictions, ideological, ordinance, content neutral, exemptions, facially, content-neutral, conveys, election, limits, subject to strict scrutiny, subject matter, suppression, qualifying, display, courts, the First Amendment, trigger, motive, municipal, purposes

Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Speech, Scope, General Overview