City of Austin v. Reagan National Advertising of Austin, Inc.

A Supreme Court case challenging a city sign code that permits on-premises but not off-premises signs to be digitized.

On August 20, 2021, the Knight Institute, joined by Professor Genevieve Lakier, filed an amicus brief in a case pending before the Supreme Court, City of Austin, Texas v. Reagan National Advertising of Austin, Inc., et. al. This case challenges a city ordinance that distinguishes between on-premises and off-premises signs, allowing the former but not the later to be digitized.

The Austin city ordinance defines an off-premises sign as one that advertises businesses, goods or services that are not located on the same site as the sign. The ordinance allows an on-premises sign to be digitized, not an off-premises sign. The Fifth Circuit held that under the Supreme Court’s decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, the sign code’s on-premises/off-premises distinction is content-based and thus subject to strict scrutiny because in order for a city official to determine whether a sign is on-premises or off-premises, the official has to read the sign. 

The amicus brief argues that the Supreme Court’s decision in Reed has caused confusion and inconsistency in the lower courts about the test for determining whether a law is content-based and thus subject to strict scrutiny. The brief suggests that the Supreme Court adopt a more nuanced test or at the very least clarify that Reed requires strict scrutiny only for laws that draw distinctions based on viewpoint or subject matter. The brief argues that under either approach, Austin’s sign code is not content-based and as a result is not subject to strict scrutiny.  

Status: Petitioner's brief filed on August 13, 2021.

Case Information: City of Austin, Texas v. Reagan National Advertising of Austin, Inc., et al., No. 20-1029 (S. Ct.).

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