Attention Sign Companies and Outdoor Advertisers: New Ninth Circuit Decision Partially Invalidates on First Amendment Grounds Permit Scheme Regulating Commercial Weddings
By Matthew Hinks
Sign litigation, especially litigation over the constitutionality of ordinances and regulations affecting signage, often involves familiar, but competing, concepts. Although the courts recognize that outdoor advertising signs are subject to certain protections as "commercial speech" under the First Amendment, municipalities and agencies nevertheless hold significant authority to regulate signage. So long as the regulations on signage are content neutral and further the recognized governmental interests in protecting traffic safety and eliminating visual blight, the regulations are generally upheld. However, where an ordinance or regulatory scheme affords local officials too much -- or in the courts' parlance, "unbridled" -- discretion over whether to approve, deny or condition the approval of a sign, the courts are willing to step in and strike down the offending regulation. Although not a sign case, a new opinion out of the Ninth Circuit, Kaahumanu v. State of Hawaii, 2012 DJAR 7472 (9th Cir., June 6, 2012), offers a wonderful illustration of these competing principles.