Tennessee Billboard Act Declared Unconstitutional

Tennessee has long made a distinction between on-premises and off-premises commercial signs in sign regulations. In general, on-premise signs (those that advertise or point to a good or service provided on the same site as the sign) are less regulated than off-premises advertising signs. This may come to an end. The Western District of Tennessee declared the state law unconstitutional in March 2017, applying strict scrutiny to the law, because it is a content-based regulation, and the speech at issue is not necessarily commercial. Commercial speech (primarily advertising) has less protection than non-commercial speech (which could include public service announcements, political signs, or religious signs, for example). Regulation of non-commercial speech has to pass a “strict scrutiny” test to be Constitutional. To pass strict scrutiny, the government has to have a compelling state interest, and no less burdensome means to achieve that interest. The Tennessee Billboard Act failed the test, according to the Federal District Court in Thomas v. Schroer, 248 F. Supp. 3d 868 (W. D. Tenn. 2017).