U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Review “For Sale” Sign Ban, Cementing Landmark First Amendment Victory

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · December 3, 2007

Arlington, Va.—Today, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Glendale, Ohio’s request to review the landmark First Amendment decision by the entire 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in June striking down the village’s prohibition on car “for sale” signs. Glendale resident Chris Pagan brought the challenge in federal court.

“There was no need for the Supreme Court to get involved because the 6th Circuit was correct in concluding that Glendale violated Chris Pagan’s First Amendment rights by threatening him with jail time or fines for a routine act of free speech—a ‘for sale’ sign in the window of his car,” said Jeff Rowes, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represents Chris. “The 6th Circuit got it right by putting the burden on the government to justify its speech ban. Ordinary citizens like Chris should not have to go to court to prove they deserve constitutional protection for their rights.”

On June 29, 2007, the 6th Circuit ruled that the First Amendment does not allow Glendale to ban a harmless “for sale” sign from the window of a parked car. The ruling emphasized that the burden is squarely on the government to provide actual evidence to justify restrictions on speech. Glendale provided none. Instead, and contrary to strong constitutional protection for commercial speech, the village argued that government bureaucrats should have unfettered discretion to decide when commercial speech is allowed.

According to Glendale, it is “common sense” that the government must sometimes keep the public ignorant for its own good because people cannot be trusted to look at a “for sale” sign without dangerously walking into the road to look at the car.

But U.S. Supreme Court precedent says otherwise, setting a high bar for when governments may interfere with commercial speech and always requiring meaningful evidence that the regulated speech presents a real danger to the public.

“The decision in this case affirms the longstanding principle that freedom of speech includes grassroots commercial speech like a ‘for sale’ sign,” said Chip Mellor, IJ’s president and general counsel. “Chris Pagan’s fight will serve as an important reminder to governments across the country that the Constitution does not allow bureaucrats to engage in censorship.”