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Sunday, July 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Digital Billboard Ban in New Jersey Upheld

(CN) - A township's ban on digital billboards does not violate the New Jersey constitution, the state appeals court ruled.

Franklin Township, a booming suburb just outside the elbow crook that I-95 and I-287 create in Edison, took action four years ago to ban moving, multiple-message billboards.

After the town refused to grant E&J Equities LLC a variance to erect such a billboard facing 287, E&J challenged the ordinance on digital billboards as unconstitutional.

Though the Somerset County Superior Court agreed with E&J that the township's ban violated the First Amendment, the New Jersey Appellate Division reversed in favor of the township on Friday, noting that freedom of speech is not an absolute right.

"Both Congress and our legislature have identified the promotion of safety on the highways and the preservation of natural beauty as interests to be served in their regulation of billboards," Judge Marianne Espinosa wrote for a three-judge panel.

In addition to pointing out that governments have more leeway in limiting content-neutral speech, the court emphasized that the ordinance does not ban static billboards.

"E&J's effort to elevate the ban on digital billboards to a content-related restriction lacks any merit," Espinosa wrote.

While E&J argued that the digital billboard could be used to convey emergency messages, the appellate ruling cited other means of achieving this goal.

"Signs posted by the New Jersey Department of Transportation on I-287 were used to provide Amber and Silver alerts; the township has a 'reverse 9-1-1' calling system and a system for sending 'email blasts' to residents when necessary," Espinosa wrote.

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