Reed et al. v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona et al.

PETITIONER: Clyde Reed, et al.
RESPONDENT: Town of Gilbert, Arizona, et al.
LOCATION: Good News Community Church

DOCKET NO.: 13-502
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 576 US (2015)
GRANTED: Jul 01, 2014
ARGUED: Jan 12, 2015
DECIDED: Jun 18, 2015

ADVOCATES:
Eric J. Feigin - for the United States as amicus curiae
Philip W. Savrin - for the respondents
David A Cortman - on behalf of petitioners

Facts of the case

Clyde Reed, pastor of Good News Community Church (Good News), rented space at an elementary school in Gilbert, Arizona, and placed about 17 signs in the area announcing the time and location of Good News' services. Gilbert has an ordinance (Sign Code) that restricts the size, number, duration, and location of certain types of signs, including temporary directional ones, to prevent improper signage. After Good News received an advisory notice from Gilbert that it violated the Sign Code, Good News sued Gilbert and claimed that the Sign Code violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The district court found that the Sign Code was constitutional since it was content-neutral and was reasonable in light of the government interests. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed and held that, even though an official would have to read a sign to determine what provisions of the Sign Code applied, the restrictions were not based on the content of the signs, and the Sign Code left open other channels of communication.

Question

Does an ordinance restricting the size, number, duration, and location of temporary directional signs violate the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment or the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Reed et al. v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona et al.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 12, 2015 in Reed et al. v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona et al.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 18, 2015 in Reed et al. v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona et al.

Clarence Thomas:

The second case I have is Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, number 13-502.

This case comes to us on a Writ of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Respondent, the Town of Gilbert Arizona, adopted a comprehensive code regulating the display of outdoor signs.

This sign code distinguishes among various types of signs based on the messages the signs convey.

For example political signs are treated differently than ideological signs which in turn are treated differently than signs directing passersby to a meeting sponsored by a church or similar nonprofit organization.

Petitioners, Pastor Clyde Reed and his church, wished to post temporary signs announcing the time and location of their church services in a manner inconsistent with the Sign code.

They sought an injunction in federal court contending that the sign code violated the First Amendment because it drew content-based distinctions and was not narrowly tailored to further any compelling governmental interest.

The District Court denied the injunction and granted summary judgment to the town.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that the sign code was not content-based regulation of speech.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we reverse the judgment of the Ninth Circuit.

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.

Under this standard, the town sign code is content-based.

The sign code defines categories of signs based on the messages they convey and then imposes different burdens based on those messages.

Such content-based regulations of speech are subject to strict scrutiny, not the intermediate scrutiny that the Ninth Circuit applied.

Under this standard of scrutiny, the town's content-based regulations are unconstitutional because they are not narrowly tailored to further any compelling governmental interest.

For these reasons and others set forth in our opinion, we reverse the judgment of the Ninth Circuit.

Justice Alito has filed a concurring opinion in which Justices Kennedy and Sotomayor have joined.

Justice Breyer has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

Justice Kagan has also filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in which justices Ginsburg and Breyer have joined.