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Metromedia, Inc. v. San Diego, City of

ELR Citation: 11 ELR 20600
Nos. No. 80-195, 453 U.S. 490/16 ERC 1057/(U.S., 07/02/1981) Rev'd

Reversing a decision of the Supreme Court of California, 10 ELR 20862, the United States Supreme Court invalidates on First Amendment grounds a San Diego billboard ordinance prohibiting, with some exceptions, off-site commercial advertising and noncommercial signs. In the view of a four-member plurality, the ordinance would be a permissible restriction on commercial speech because the legislature reasonably determined that the ordinance was necessary to advance the legitimate government interest in preventing traffic hazards. However, it is constitutionally defective in its approach to noncommercial advertising because it affords less opportunity for noncommercial messages than for commercial ones. In addition, by permitting certain types of noncommercial messages to be displayed, the ordinance represents an impermissible attempt by the city to choose appropriate subjects for public discourse. Concurring in the result, Justices Brennan and Blackmun reject the plurality's distinction between commercial and noncommercial billboards. In their view, San Diego failed to show a sufficiently substantial governmental interest to justify restrictions on either type of sign. Chief Justice Burger and Justices Stevens and Rehnquist, in separate dissenting opinions, would uphold the constitutionality of a total ban on billboards and would similarly approve a less-than-total ban, such as the San Diego ordinance, where it makes no attempt to promote or deter the expression of a particular viewpoint.

Counsel for Appellants
Floyd Abrams, Theodore B. Olson, Dean Ringel, Susan Buckley, Susan E. Fine, Martha A. Scarf
Cahill, Gordon & Reindel
80 Pine St., New York NY 10005
(212) 825-0100

Counsel for Appellees
C. Alan Sumption, Deputy City Attorney; John W. Witt, City Attorney
City concourse, 202 C St., San Diego CA 92101
(714) 236-6220