Ladue v. Gilleo
Decided on June 13, 1994; 512 US 43


A. Issues Discussed: Freedom of speech

B. Legal Question Presented:

Do city ordinances regulating private property signs by content violate the right to free speech as protected by the First Amendment?


A. Background:

"Respondent Margaret P. Gilleo owns one of the 57 single family homes in the Willow Hill subdivision of Ladue. On December 8, 1990, she placed on her front lawn a 24" by 36-inch sign printed with the words 'Say No to War in the Persian Gulf, Call Congress Now.' After that sign disappeared, Gilleo put up another but it was knocked to the ground. When Gilleo reported these incidents to the police, they advised her that such signs were prohibited in Ladue... Gilleo then filed this action... against the City, the Mayor, and members of the City Council, alleging that Ladue's sign ordinance violated her First Amendment right of free speech.

The District Court issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the ordinance. Gilleo then placed an 8.5 by 11 inch sign in the second story window of her home stating, 'For Peace in the Gulf.' The Ladue City Council responded to the injunction by repealing its ordinance and enacting a replacement. Like its predecessor, the new ordinance contains a general prohibition of 'signs' and defines that term broadly. The ordinance prohibits all signs except those that fall within one of ten exemptions. Thus, 'residential identification signs' no larger than one square foot are allowed, as are signs advertising 'that the property is for sale, lease or exchange' and identifying the owner or agent. Also exempted are signs 'for churches, religious institutions, and schools,' '[c]ommercial signs in commercially or industrial zoned districts,' and on site signs advertising 'gasoline filling stations.' Unlike its predecessor, the new ordinance contains a lengthy 'Declaration of Findings, Policies, Interests, and Purposes,' part of which recites that the 'proliferation of an unlimited number of signs in private, residential, commercial, industrial, and public areas of the City of Ladue would create ugliness, visual blight and clutter, tarnish the natural beauty of the landscape as well as the residential and commercial architecture, impair property values, substantially impinge upon theprivacy and special ambience of the community, and may cause safety and traffic hazards to motorists, pedestrians, and children...'

Gilleo amended her complaint to challenge the new ordinance, which explicitly prohibits window signs like hers. The District Court held the ordinance unconstitutional, and the Court of Appeals affirmed..."

On appeal the US Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side

Counsel for Respondent included GP Greiman, MM Green, MA Margo, and SR Shapiro.


"While signs pose distinctive problems and thus are subject to municipalities' police powers, measures regulating them inevitably affect communication itself. Such a regulation may be challenged on the ground that it restricts too little speech because its exemptions discriminate on the basis of signs' messages, or on the ground that it prohibits too much protected speech...

Although Ladue has a concededly valid interest in minimizing visual clutter, it has almost completely foreclosed an important and distinct medium of expression to political, religious, or personal messages. Prohibitions foreclosing entire media may be completely free of content or viewpoint discrimination, but such measures can suppress too much speech by eliminating a commonmeans of speaking...

Ladue's attempt to justify the ordinance as a 'time, place, or manner' restriction fails because alternatives such as handbills and newspaper advertisements are inadequate substitutes for the important medium that Ladue has closed off. Displaying a sign from ones' own residence carries a message quite distinct from placing the same sign someplace else, or conveying the same text or picture by other means, for it provides information about the speaker's identity, an important component of many attempts to persuade. Residential signs are also an unusually cheap and convenient form of communication. Furthermore, the audience intended to be reached by a residential sign--neighbors--could not be reached nearly as well by other means.

A special respect for individual liberty in the home has long been part of this Nation's culture and law and has a special resonance when the government seeks to constrain a person's ability to speak there. The decision reached here does not leave Ladue powerless to address the ills that may be associated with residential signs. In addition, residents' self interest in maintaining their own property values and preventing 'visual clutter' in their yards and neighborhoods diminishes the danger of an 'unlimited' proliferation of signs."

The US Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con
(Unanimous Decision for Respondent/Appellee)

  • Stevens, J. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)

The ACLU, as Counsel for respondent, urged affirmance of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit's judgment; the Supreme Court affirmed in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.