AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for the City of Austin v. Reagan National Advertising of Texas Inc., a case involving the constitutionality of the City’s ordinance restricting digital billboards.
Austin’s sign ordinance allows businesses to use digital billboards on premises. Those digital signs are limited to messages related to the business on the property. Digital signs are not permitted off premises.
Reagan National Advertising, a family-owned advertising company based in Austin, sued the City after it denied the company’s request to digitize 84 existing off-premises analog billboards.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Reagan National Advertising. According to the Fifth Circuit, since an officer must read a billboard to determine whether the sign is advertising something related to the property where it is located, the ordinance acts to restrict the content of the sign. Content-based regulation would violate constitutional free speech rights.
In Wednesday’s hearing before the Supreme Court, Michael Dreeben, representing the City, argued the ordinance is not content based, because it does not prohibit specific subject matter.
“A law is content based on its face when the text of the law singles out specific subject matter for differential treatment,” Dreeben said. “Regulating off-premises advertising does not.”
Instead, he argued the ordinance is content neutral, saying it regulates the type of signs, not the message.
Kannon Shanmugam, a representative of the plaintiff, offered a counter argument.
“The fact that Austin’s regulation does not prohibit speech on an entire subject and that the application of the regulation depends on a factor in addition to the sign’s content, does not render it content neutral,” Kannon said.
The Court is adjourned until Monday, Nov. 29.