Dallas Sign Ban

Gilliland, et al v. City of Dallas
Dallas Sign Ban Hurts Small Businesses, Violates First Amendment Rights


Video: City of Dallas Bans Signs for Small Business
Dallas Sign Ban Poster

Download a Printable 8.5x11" PDF of the Sign


April makes signs for a living.  She uses her own business to show what she can do for customers.  Yet, her tasteful, attractive signs violate the letter of the Dallas ordinance.  

Businesses have a First Amendment right to communicate truthful information.  Almost no government would dare to pass a law that restricted the ability of businesses to honestly advertise their products and services in newspapers, on the radio or on television. Yet local regulation of window signage has expanded, over the past 30years, to unprecedented levels—levels that violate the First Amendment. 

The city of Dallas, Texas, changed its laws in 2008 to ban virtually all business window signage.  Yet it is not the government’s place to demand, as Dallas does, that shop owners keep ads off the top two-thirds of their window or demand that 85 percent of a window be free from ads.  The government’s job is to protect the rights of business owners, including their right to free speech.  Dallas’s ordinance does nothing but create problems for small businesses and stifle honest enterprise, which are the last things anybody should be doing in this economy.

A message that would enjoy almost complete constitutional protection in a newspaper enjoys, according to Dallas and other cities across the country, virtually no protection when hung in a window.  Commercial speech deserves the same constitutional protection as political or artistic speech.  The First Amendment guarantees that Americans may speak their minds and communicate information without having to get the approval of government censors.

Customers don’t notice tiny signs or signs at their feet.  But the Dallas sign ordinance tells storeowners those are the only kinds of speech they can hang in their windows.  A tiny sign in the bottom corner of a window is not effective; which is why businesses do not typically use tiny signs at people’s feet to attract customers.

If you can speak and advertise, you can stay in business.  The city’s censorship falls hardest on small businesses, for whom retail signs are the most cost-effective way—and often the only way—to reach customers with news about products, services and specials.  This free flow of information in the marketplace is just as important as the free flow of information in the marketplace of ideas.

The ordinance only applies to commercial signs.  Business owners are free to cover their windows completely with political posters, artwork, shelves, coolers or even black paint, but they can’t cover them with commercial messages, such as “open” signs or signs about weekly specials.  They can put a gigantic Dallas Cowboys sign on the top two-thirds of their window, but they can’t advertise in that same space that they sell Dallas Cowboys merchandise.

The Institute for Justice Texas Chapter is challenging this blatant violation of the First Amendment rights of Dallas business owners with a lawsuit filed in federal court.  The Institute is asking a federal judge to declare the ban unconstitutional, and to restore the right of Dallas business owners to speak truthfully to their customers through messages in their windows.

Essential Background


Backgrounder: Dallas Sign Ban Hurts Small Businesses, Violates First Amendment Rights: Law Makes It Nearly Impossible For Entrepreneurs to Advertise

Client Photos

Client Video - none available

Launch Release: Entrepreneurs Sue City of Dallas To Overturn Ban on Window Signs (November 10, 2009)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

none available

Latest Release: Business Owners Forced to Abandon Lawsuit (June 7, 2011)


Case Timeline

Lawsuit Filed:


November 10, 2009

Court Filed:


U.S. District Court - Northern District of Texas



Agreed Final Judgment, June 7, 2011

Current Court:


U.S. District Court - Northern District of Texas



Closed: Dismissed

Next Key Date:



Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

none available


Chart: What Amount of Signage is Allowed?

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: Using Signs to Protest a Sign Ban; Liberty & Law (April 2010)

Video: WFAA-TV Follows IJ's Matt Miller As He Hands Out Posters Protesting the Dallas Sign Ban; WFAA-ABC (February 25, 2010)

Video: City of Dallas Bans Window Signs for Small Business; (February 24, 2010)

Article: Dallas Officials Don't Understand: A Business with No Signs Is a Sign of No BusinessLiberty & Law (February 2010)

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