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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

Case Summary

Overview

HOLDINGS: [1]-Provisions in a town's sign code, Gilbert, Ariz., Land Development Code, ch. 1, § 4.402 (2005), which imposed more stringent restrictions on signs directing the public to a meeting of a nonprofit group than it did on signs conveying other messages, were content-based regulations of speech because the restrictions in the sign code that applied to any given sign depended entirely on the communicative content of the sign; [2]-The provisions could not survive First Amendment strict scrutiny because the town could not claim that placing strict limits on temporary directional signs was necessary to beautify the town while at the same time allowing unlimited numbers of other types of signs that created the same problem, and had not shown that limiting temporary directional signs was necessary to eliminate threats to traffic safety, but that limiting other types of signs was not.

Outcome

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

LexisNexis® Headnotes

 

 

Constitutional Law > ... > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > Scope

HN1 The First Amendment, applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits the enactment of laws abridging the freedom of speech. U.S. Const. amend. I. Under that Clause, a government, including a municipal government vested with state authority, has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content. Content-based laws—those that target speech based on its communicative content—are presumptively unconstitutional and may be justified only if the government proves that they are narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests.

 

Constitutional Law > ... > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > General Overview

HN2 Government regulation of speech is content based if a law applies to particular speech because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed. This commonsense meaning of the phrase “content based” requires a court to consider whether a regulation of speech “on its face” draws distinctions based on the message a speaker conveys. Some facial distinctions based on a message are obvious, defining regulated speech by particular subject matter, and others are more subtle, defining regulated speech by its function or purpose. Both are distinctions drawn based on the message a speaker conveys, and, therefore, are subject to strict scrutiny. Supreme Court precedents have also recognized a separate and additional category of laws that, though facially content neutral, will be considered content-based regulations of speech: laws that cannot be justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, or that were adopted by the government because of disagreement with the message the speech conveys. Those laws, like those that are content based on their face, must also satisfy strict scrutiny.

 

Constitutional Law > ... > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > General Overview

HN3 A law that is content based on its face is subject to strict scrutiny regardless of the government’s benign motive, content-neutral justification, or lack of animus toward the ideas contained in the regulated speech. Illicit legislative intent is not the sine qua non of a violation of the First Amendment, and a party opposing the government need adduce no evidence of an improper censorial motive. Although a content-based purpose may be sufficient in certain circumstances to show that a regulation is content based, it is not necessary. In other words, an innocuous justification cannot transform a facially content-based law into one that is content neutral.

 

Constitutional Law > ... > Fundamental Freedoms > Freedom of Speech > General Overview

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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.

Prior History:  [1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

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.