City of Austin, Texas v. Reagan National Advertising of Austin, LLC, et al.

AuthorGoodrich, Alexander

142 S. CT. 1464 (2022)

In City of Austin, Texas v. Reagan National Advertising of Austin, LLC., et al., the Supreme Court affirmed the power of local municipalities to regulate highway billboards. (1) The decision also provided an illustration of the First Amendment distinction between content-neutral and content-based regulations articulated in Reed v. Town of Gilbert. (2)


    Reagan National Advertising of Austin ("Reagan") and Lamar Advantage Outdoor Company ("Lamar") owned and operated multiple billboards that displayed various commercial advertisements and non-commercial messages around the city of Austin, Texas. (3) Like many other municipalities around the country, the City of Austin ("City") regulates the placement and display of billboards and signs. (4) To regulate safety and local aesthetics, the City drew a distinction between off-premises signs, or signs that direct the reader to a separate location than that of the sign (such as a roadside billboard advertising a local restaurant) and on-premises signs, or signs that direct the reader to the same location (such as a sign on the face of a restaurant that advertises that same restaurant). (5)

    In 2017, the City of Austin passed a law that "prohibited the construction of any new off-premises signs" but grandfathered in those off-premises signs that existed at the time so long as the off-premises signs were not altered in a way to increase their conspicuity, such as by digitization. (6) This case was initiated when the City of Austin denied Reagan's permit application to digitize its off-premises signs. (7)

    Reagan sued the City in state court for violating his First Amendment right to free speech, and Lamar intervened, both seeking declaratory judgements finding the off-premises versus on-premises distinction unconstitutional. (8) The trial court summarily dismissed Lamar and Reagans' request, but the Fifth Circuit reversed the lower court's decision, reasoning that the off/on-premises distinction required a state agent to inquire as to "who is the speaker and what is the speaker saying." (9) Therefore, the court reasoned, the content-based regulation should be invalidated because it could not survive strict scrutiny. (10) The City of Austin petitioned for certiorari, which the Supreme Court granted. (11)


    This case turned on determining the level of scrutiny to apply in analyzing the City's distinction between off-premises and on-premises signs. (12) In doing so, the Supreme Court was required to determine whether the regulation prohibiting the digitization of off-premises signs was...

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