City of Ladue v. Gilleo
512 U.S. 43 (1994)

  • Gilleo owned a house in Ladue, Missouri. She put up several signs protesting the first Gulf War on her property. She was informed that a city ordinance prohibited placing signs in one’s yard.
  • Gilleo applied for a variance to the city ordinance, but was denied. She sued on the grounds that the ordinance violated the 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech.
  • The Trial Court found for Gilleo and issued an injunction against the ordinance.
    • Gilleo placed an anti-war sign in the window of her home.
  • The City Council repealed the ordinance and replaced it with a new one. The new ordinance did not allow for variances at all.
    • The ordinance also defined which types of signs were allowed, for example, most types of commercial signs were ok.
    • Gilleo amended her complaint to challenge the constitutionality of the new ordinance.
  • The Trial Court held the ordinance to be unconstitutional. Ladue appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Ladue appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the ordinance was invalid as a “content based” regulation because it treated commercial speech more favorably than noncommercial speech.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court noted that municipalities have an interest in signs from a zoning and land use perspective.
    • The Court found that there are two ways in which sign banning can lead to violations of the 1st Amendment:
      • Ordinances that ban too little free speech by using exemptions to discriminate on the basis of the sign’s message.
      • Ordinances that ban too much free speech, such as an outright ban on all signs.
    • The Court found that putting up signs in one’s yard is a very important part of free speech and Ladue’s ordinance banning all signs (which included political campaign ads) was clearly unconstitutional.
      • However, the Court did say that it was possible that you could construct an anti-sign regulation that wouldn’t violate the 1st Amendment.
        • For example, a regulation that banned all signs larger than a certain size.