Houston Can Limit Billboards, Court Says

     (CN) – A Houston code banning commercial billboards does not violate advertisers’ First Amendment rights, the 5th Circuit ruled.

     The city’s sign code threatened to eliminate most of the 59 billboards owned by RTM Media.
     Houston sued RTM Media in state court, accusing it of violating the sign code and being a public nuisance. The media company battled back in federal court, claiming the sign code violates its First Amendment right to commercial speech.
     The code classifies billboards as “on-premise” or “off-premise,” depending on how close they are to the businesses they promote, and bans off-premise signs. However, it makes an exception for noncommercial signs, such as informational or religious messages.
     The district court said the code is probably unconstitutional, but later reversed course and granted summary judgment for the city, explaining that commercial signs are far more numerous than noncommercial signs, and that the city could clean up the visual clutter and distraction along public roadways.
     The three-judge panel in New Orleans upheld this ruling.
     Writing for the panel, Judge Smith said the city presented sufficient evidence that the sign code is specifically targeted at commercial, rather than non-commercial, speech and has cut in half “signage” around the city.

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