• Is Billboard Law Constitutional?

    Federal Appeals Court to Hear the Case Soon

    Insider has been tracking an important court case in Tennessee, Thomas v Schroer.  Word came this week that a federal appeals court will hear arguments on this challenge to billboard law based on the assertion that it violates the First Amendment.

    A three-judge panel of the US Sixth Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments on January 30, 2019, in Cincinnati, OH (Thomas v. Schroer).  The appeals court is based in Cincinnati; its territory includes Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

    The plaintiff, William Thomas, argues that Tennessee’s billboard-control law is unconstitutional because it is based on sign content, treating on-premise and off-premise signs differently.  To support this position, attorneys for Thomas cite the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, AZ, which struck down a local ordinance because it treated temporary signs differently.

    A federal trial court in Memphis agreed with Thomas; US District Court Judge Jon P. McCalla ruled against Tennessee’s billboard law in 2017.

    On appeal, Thomas is represented by the Institute for Free Speech based in Alexandria, VA.

    The State of Tennessee says its sign regulation is based on location, not content.  The US Department of Justice is supporting the State, in conjunction with the US Department of Transportation.  The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) also is aligned with the government position.

    Tennessee’s billboard law is similar to others, as well as the federal Highway Beautification Act (HBA).  Therefore, the closely-watched Thomas case from Tennessee could have broad impact. This case could also be appealed to the US Supreme Court.



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