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City of Ladue v. Gilleo

    Brief Fact Summary. A City of Ladue ordinance prohibited homeowners from displaying any signs on property except for residence identification, for sale signs and signs warning of safety hazards. The Petitioner is the City of Ladue (Petitioner). The Respondent, Maragaret Gilleo (Respondent), put a sign on her front lawn that said “Say no to War in the Persian Gulf, Call Congress Now.” Later she put a similar sign in her window.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Ordinance that was blanket prohibition on signs was a content-based restriction that abridged homeowners’ First Amendment rights. It was not a time, place and manner restriction because there was no viable substitute for this unique medium of expression.

    Facts. A City of Ladue ordinance prohibited homeowners from displaying any signs on property except for residence identification, for sale signs and signs warning of safety hazards. The police advised Respondent that signs such as her war protest sign were prohibited in the Petitioner City. The City Council denied Respondent’s petition for variance. The Respondent moved her sign to the window, so that it wouldn’t be on her property. The Petitioner City enacted a replacement ordinance in order to expand the definition of signs that would be prohibited in the City and also to add an explanation of the legislative purpose of the ban on signs. The Petitioner City enacted a replacement ordinance, which included a sweeping definition of signs (window signs were among those prohibited) and also extended an explanation of findings, policies, interests, that described among other things that the signs would clutter, tarnish beauty and impair property values. The replacement ordinance also exp
    anded the exceptions available for commercial signs.

    Issue. Is the Petitioner City’s sign ordinance an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech?

    Held. The ordinance is an unconstitutional abridgement of 1st Amendment constitutional rights. The regulation treated commercial speech more favorably than non-commercial speech and totally foreclosed a means of communication with a sweeping definition of signs. The ordinance was more than just a time, place and manner restriction, since the speech could not be switched to an alternate medium. Further, residents’ self-interest in property values will probably prevent the danger of unlimited proliferation of signs. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) felt a more temperate regulation could meet the Petitioner City’s concerns.

    Discussion. A time, place and manner restriction is permissible. A local government can regulate the physical characteristics of signs that pose public problems by obstructing views, displace alternative use and distracting motorists. In Contrast, the petitioner’s ordinance cut off the entire medium expression through signs and therefore was not tied to the harm could validly seek to prevent under the police power.


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