IJ Strikes Again: Entrepreneurs Sue City of Dallas To Overturn Ban on Window Signs

The Institute for Justice filed a new lawsuit today:

The Texas Chapter of the Institute for Justice today filed a federal suit against the city of Dallas, Texas, for violating the free speech rights of local businesses.

Under the new law enacted in 2008, businesses are prohibited from putting signs in the upper two-thirds of any window or glass door, and no more than 15 percent of any window or glass door may be covered by signs.  The only way to comply with the new ordinance is by putting tiny signs at people’s feet—which is not an effective way to advertise.  The law also bans signs that cover more than 25 percent of a building’s façade.

The law only targets commercial messages.  Businesses are free to put anything except a commercial message in their windows.  For example, a business could paint a giant Dallas Cowboys helmet on its window—but not advertise that it offers Cowboys merchandise for sale inside.  Businesses can paint their windows black or put coolers or other items in front of them.  In fact, businesses are not even required to have windows at all.  What they cannot do is put a commercial message in the upper two-thirds of a window or cover more than 15 percent of a window with one.

That law seems rational. Stay tuned.



2 Responses to “IJ Strikes Again: Entrepreneurs Sue City of Dallas To Overturn Ban on Window Signs”

  1. Don Incognito Says:

    I think this lawsuit is a great thing, and should happen in many more cities. I have direct experience with such an ordnance in Sunny Isles Beach, FL (the Brighton Beach of Dade County.) Sunny Isles forbade any type commercial sign, not just on the window, but even a certain distance behind a window such that it could be seen through it. For businesses that couldn’t advertise in other ways due to prohibitive costs and/or low exposure (e.g. delicatessen, video rentals, and basically anything else that wasn’t a corporate chain) this had disastrous effects on income.

    I can understand the rationale behind signage laws as a form of combat against visual pollution and ugliness (billboards, for example), or the use of such an ordnance in historic or otherwise architecturally/visually unique districts. But in cities such as Sunny Isles, where all businesses are located in ugly strip malls with huge parking lots out front, such laws are draconian and have no discernible aesthetic benefit. Moreover, they have the effect of a regressive tax on small business and benefit corporate chains that have the means to advertise elsewhere.

    If the Institute for Justice decided to visit Sunny Isles Beach, FL, I know a good number of small business owners that would be very grateful.

  2. Warren Norred Says:

    Doesn’t seem rational to me. If the point is visual clutter, then the commerical requirement is irrational. I don’t see an argument that results in only commercial signage, but not ideological signage or other sorts of signs.

    But then I think that the distinction between commercial and non-commercial is rather artificial. To be commercial is to sell people on a product. Dallas has someone decided that signs concerning the trade of lucre should be treated differently than those signs that are selling people on ideas or religion. Why is a sign with a Cowboy helmet on it okay? What if the sign is a picture of a big steak, on the side of a steak house? At what point does it become commerical?

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