City Council of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent 466 U.S. 789 (1984)

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A Los Angeles ordinance prohibited the posting of signs on public property. Supporters of a candidate for city council sued to enjoin city officials from continuing to remove their signs from utility poles; they were joined as plaintiffs by the company that made and posted the signs for them. Of the 1,207 signs removed during one week of the campaign, 48 supported the candidate; most were commercial signs. The Supreme Court, 6–3, rejected constitutional attacks on the ordinance on its face and as applied.

The case seemed to call for analysis according to the principles governing rights of access to the public forum—rights particularly valuable to people of limited means. Instead, Justice john paul stevens, for the Court, applied the set of rules announced in united states v. o ' brien (1968), suggesting the possibility that those rules might in the future be applied routinely to first amendment cases involving regulations that are not aimed at message content. Here the government interest in aesthetic values was substantial; the city had no purpose to suppress a particular message; and the law curtailed no more speech than was necessary to its purpose. In a bow to public forum reasoning, Stevens noted that other means of communication remained open to the plaintiffs.

The dissenters, led by Justice william j. brennan, argued that the assertion of aesthetic purposes deserved careful scrutiny to assure even-handed regulation, narrowly tailored to aesthetic objectives that were both comprehensively carried out and precisely defined. The City had made no such showing here, they contended.

Critics of the decision have suggested that it is part of a larger inegalitarian trend in burger court decisions concerning the freedom of speech and freedom of the press, a trend exemplified by buckley v. valeo (1976) and hudgens v. nlrb (1976).

Kenneth L. Karst

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City Council of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent 466 U.S. 789 (1984)

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City Council of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent 466 U.S. 789 (1984)