Supreme Court Decision Strikes Down Arizona Sign Law


WASHINGTON, D.C. – June 23, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona,is likely to affect sign rules and regulations in many communities across the country. The American Planning Association (APA) filed an amicus brief in support of the Town of Gilbert. APA is disappointed in the outcome; however, planners are ready to work with communities in implementing updated regulations in response to the ruling that continue to respond to the needs and interests of local residents.

In today’s unanimous decision, the Supreme Court has given new guidance to local governments on sign regulations. The majority decision, written by Justice Thomas, concluded that the town’s sign code regulated based on content. This decision reverses a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision. However, the Court did not overrule any existing precedents.

“It is encouraging that a clear majority — six justices — continue to believe that certain kinds of distinctions, such as those between on-premises and off-premises signs, between signs on commercial property and signs on residential property, and signs with fixed messages and electronic signs with changing messages, may continue to be regulated locally under today’s decision,” said APA Executive Director James Drinan, JD.

“APA believes that rational, locally crafted sign regulations are often necessary and can be in the best interests of communities and residents,” said Carol Rhea, FAICP, president of the American Planning Association. “Today’s ruling casts uncertainty over necessary codes.”

“Today’s decision may increase uncertainty and leave communities open to new challenges to local codes,” Rhea added. “Communities may need to make some difficult choices in the near future.”

The American Planning Association (APA) in conjunction with a group of national state and local government organizations had urged the court to uphold Gilbert’s current sign law as proper. The brief further argues that adoption of the strict scrutiny test has the potential to invalidate nearly all sign codes in the country, and thereby imperils the important traffic safety and aesthetic purposes underlying sign regulation.

The American Planning Association joined the National League of Cities, United States Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties, International City/County Management Association, International Municipal Lawyers Association and Scenic America. The brief was written by Lisa Soronen of the State & Local Legal Center and the Law Offices of Sabine & Morrison, Rogers Towers, P.A., and Weiss Serota Helfman Cole Bierman & Popok, PL.

For more information about the case, register online for APA’s 2015 Planning Law Reviewaudio/web conference to be held on Wednesday, July 1, 2015.

The American Planning Association is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of vital communities. APA and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, are dedicated to advancing the art, science and profession of good planning — physical, economic, and social — so as to create communities that offer better choices for where and how people work and live. APA has offices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, with almost 40,000 members worldwide in nearly 100 countries.


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