What is the Reed case anyway?
Reed refers to a Supreme Court case decided in June of 2015, Reed vs. Town of Gilbert. Briefly, a church group without a permanent worship facility posted temporary signs announcing the place of Sunday services each week. The city restricted such signs to 12 hours before the event. The church was cited for placing signs outside this time frame. The city code allowed various time limits for various types of temporary signs. To understand how the code applied to a sign, it was necessary to know what the sign said.
The Supreme Court found that the code made it necessary to look at the content of a temporary sign to determine how the code would apply. All Justices agreed the code violated the freedom of speech. Specifically the code was not content neutral. Generally, for non-commercial speech, codes cannot be based on the content of the speech. They must be “content neutral.” There are several opinions from different justices that find the code unconstitutional with slightly different wording. Even one of the most forgiving opinions found the code provisions “laughable.” Ouch.
A few of the justices were concerned about the broad language of the main opinion. None of the Justices seemed to know how many codes the opinion would effect. The answer is nearly every code in the country contains some language that refers to the content of the message in some way. For temporary signs, impact the case has and will have is considerable. Hundreds of cities are seeking information about how the decision affects their particular sign regulations. Many cities are reacting to the decision by reviewing and revising their codes. More legal insight on the Reed case is available at the Signage Foundation, Inc. here, and for help with temporary sign regulation see “Best Practices in Regulating Temporary Signs.“