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Members of City Council v. Taxpayers for Vincent

    Brief Fact Summary. A city law banning the posting of signs on public land was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) after finding that the city’s interests were sufficiently substantial to justify the content neutral, impartially administered law.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. An incidental restriction on expression is considered justified as a reasonable regulation of the time, place or manner of expression if it is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.

    Facts. A Los Angeles law prohibited the posting of signs on public property. Despite this law, Appellees, supporters of a local candidate, posted signs on public property. Acting under the law, city employees removed the signs. This case is a challenge to the constitutionality of the law. The trial court dismissed the case, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

    Issue. Whether this prohibition abridges the Appellees’ freedom of speech within the meaning of the First Amendment?

    Held. No. Judgment of the Court of Appeals reversed. The problem addressed by this ordinance was a visual assault on the citizens of Los Angeles presented by an accumulation of signs posted on public property. This problem constitutes a significant substantive evil within the city’s power to prohibit. An incidental restriction on expression is considered justified as a reasonable regulation of the time, place or manner of expression if it is narrowly tailored to serve that interest. By banning these signs, the city did no more than eliminate the exact source of the evil it sought to remedy. The city’s position that it may decide that the aesthetic interest in avoiding “visual clutter” justifies the removal of signs creating the clutter is acceptable. Therefore, this prohibition does not abridge the Appellees’ freedom of speech.

    Dissent. The freedom of speech should not be abridged for purely aesthetic reasons.

    Discussion. Since this ban was content neutral and narrowly tailored to address the city’s problem of visual clutter, it was held constitutional.


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