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Successful Appeal Finds Austin Billboard Restriction Unconstitutional

In August, Reagan National Advertising won an appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and obtained a ruling that the City of Austin’s sign ordinance in effect in 2017 was unconstitutional.

Reagan had asked the City to grant it permit applications to digitize certain existing billboards. When the City refused, Reagan sued to challenge the constitutionality of the City’s sign ordinance. Reagan lost that suit before the district court but won on appeal.

Reagan’s case was based on Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 576 U.S. 155 (2015), which requires content-based distinctions in regulations to be subject to strict scrutiny under the law. Federal appellate courts had reached different conclusions as to what constitutes a “content-based” sign regulation, so Reagan’s case was an important opportunity for the Fifth Circuit to weigh in on this First Amendment issue.

This ruling is likely to cause local governments to modify their sign codes in Texas and elsewhere. The City of Austin is expected to appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

Reagan National Advertising was represented by Russ Horton and Julie Ford before the Fifth Circuit. The full opinion can be found here: Reagan National Advertising of Austin, Inc. v. City of Austin, 972 F.3d. 696 (5th Cir. 2020).

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