METROMEDIA, INC. v. CITY OF SAN DIEGO

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
80-195
Appellee 
Metromedia, Inc. et al.
Appellant 
City of San Diego et al.
Advocates
(on behalf of the Appellants)
(on behalf of the Appellees)
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Term:
Facts of the Case 

The city of San Diego banned most outdoor advertising display signs in order to improve the city's appearance and prevent dangerous distractions to motorists. Only "onsite" billboards with a message relating to the property they stood on would be permitted. Upon petition by a coalition of businesses owning advertising signs, a trial court ruled that the ban was an unconstitutional exercise of the city's police powers and hindered First Amendment rights of the businesses. The California Court of Appeals affirmed that the city had exceeded its police powers, but the California Supreme Court reversed this judgment.

Question 

Does a city ban on "offsite" outdoor advertising signs violate First and Fourteenth Amendment provisions for free speech?

Conclusion 
Decision: 6 votes for Metromedia, Inc., 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly

Yes. Justice Byron White wrote the opinion for a 6-3 court. The ban's exception allowing "onsite" advertising discriminated against noncommercial speech. It allowed businesses in commercial properties to interrupt city motorists so long as it was with their own messages yet barred noncommercial advertisers from causing the same level of interruption. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger dissented and viewed the "onsite" exception to the ban as "essentially negligible" rather than unconstitutional favoritism. However the Court held that affording "a greater degree of protection to commercial than to noncommercial speech" reversed the long-standing Court precedent to show greater deference to noncommercial speech.

Cite this Page
METROMEDIA, INC. v. CITY OF SAN DIEGO. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 19 June 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1980/1980_80_195>.
METROMEDIA, INC. v. CITY OF SAN DIEGO, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1980/1980_80_195 (last visited June 19, 2014).
"METROMEDIA, INC. v. CITY OF SAN DIEGO," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed June 19, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1980/1980_80_195.