Reed v. Town Of Gilbert

135 S.Ct. 2218 (2015)


Gilbert (D) adopted a comprehensive code governing the manner in which people may display outdoor signs. It identifies 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. The Code imposes more stringent restrictions on these signs than it does on signs conveying other messages. Ideological Signs include any “sign communicating a message or ideas for non-commercial 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.” 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. “Political Signs” include any “temporary sign designed to influence the outcome of an election called by a public body.” The Code treats these signs less favorably than ideological signs. The third category is “Temporary Directional Signs Relating to a Qualifying Event.” A “qualifying event” is defined as any “assembly, gathering, activity, or meeting sponsored, arranged, or promoted by a religious, charitable, community service, educational, or other similar non-profit organization.” The Code treats temporary directional signs even less favorably than political signs. Reed (P), wished to advertise the time and location of his congregations Sunday church services. The Church holds its services at elementary schools or other locations in or near D. P began placing 15 to 20 temporary signs around D frequently in the public right-of-way abutting the street. The signs typically displayed the Church’s name, along with the time and location of the upcoming service. Church members would post the signs early in the day on Saturday and then remove them around midday on Sunday. This has proved to be an economical and effective way for the Church to let the community know where its services are being held each week. D’s Sign Code compliance manager twice cited the Church for violating the Code. P tried to get an accommodation but was informed there would be “no leniency under the Code” and promised to punish any future violations. P sued in the United States District Court arguing that the Sign Code abridged their freedom of speech in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court denied the petitioners’ motion for a preliminary injunction. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that the Sign Code’s provision regulating temporary directional signs did not regulate speech on the basis of content. On remand, the District Court granted summary judgment to D. The Court of Appeals again affirmed, holding that the Code’s sign categories were content neutral. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.