In June 2015, the United States Supreme Court decided its first sign code case in over 20 years, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, 135 S. Ct. 2218 (2015). The Court’s opinion in Reed made clear that when the government treats signs differently depending on their subject matter or message, that treatment is presumptively unconstitutional—even if the government acted with the best of intentions.
The Court’s decision in Reed means that most of the thousands of municipal sign codes throughout the country are now constitutionally suspect. In the wake of Reed, many municipalities have tried to cure the problems in their sign codes, only to find that more infirmities remain. Meanwhile, other municipalities are paralyzed by the prospect of reforming overgrown sign codes—some of which have reached more than 40 pages in length.
To aid these municipalities as part of its National Sign Project, the Institute for Justice (“IJ”) has drafted a model sign code. Incorporating best practices from cities around the United States, the model code’s goal is to help municipalities successfully navigate the post-Reed landscape while making it easier for their citizens to advertise their businesses and speak out about the issues they care about the most.