In recent years, state and federal courts have used the fundamental right of free speech to curtail the government’s ability to regulate speech through sign and noise regulations. This Article traces that caselaw and seeks to provide best drafting practices for local governments regarding sign and noise regulations. First, the Author discusses developments regarding sign regulations, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert clarified that a court should determine the level of scrutiny to be applied based on whether the regulation is content-based in its operation, not on the government’s motive behind the regulation. As this holding requires many local governments to rewrite their sign regulations, the Author offers various suggestions, including: ensuring that regulations are content-neutral; revising regulations to confirm they are uniform to all users; regulating signage based upon zoning district; employing time and manner restrictions; and safeguarding from any subjective enforcement or favorable treatment.
Second, the Author discusses significant federal noise regulation cases, including the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Grayned v. City of Rockford, and the more recent Eleventh Circuit decision in Pine v. City of West Palm Beach, which established the current parameters to ensure government regulations are sufficiently clear and objective to avoid constitutional invalidity. The Author recommends that governments wading into the amorphous field of noise regulation should create a regulation that is well-defined, narrowly tailored, objective, and contains quantitative standards. After briefly discussing procedural safeguards, the Author concludes that, based on recent caselaw that has determined the boundaries for government sign and noise regulation, regulations in both arenas will continue to be highly scrutinized for constitutional overstep. Thus, it is best for local governments to review and redraft their existing regulations now.