Linmark Assocs., Inc. v. Township of Willingboro
431 U.S. 85 (1977)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Linmark Assocs., Inc. v. Township of Willingboro, 431 U.S. 85 (1977)

Linmark Associates, Inc. v. Township of Willingboro

No. 70-357

Argued March 2, 1977

Decided May 2, 1977

431 U.S. 85

Syllabus

A township ordinance prohibiting the posting of real estate "For Sale" and "Sold" signs for the purpose of stemming what the township perceived as the flight of white homeowners from a racially integrated community held to violate the First Amendment. Virginia Pharmacy Bd. v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, 425 U. S. 748. Pp. 431 U. S. 91-98.

(a) The ordinance cannot be sustained on the ground that it restricts only one method of communication while leaving ample alternative communication channels open. The alternatives (primarily newspaper advertising and listing with real estate agents, which involve more cost and less autonomy than signs, are less likely to reach persons not deliberately seeking sales information, and may be less effective) are far from satisfactory. And the ordinance is not genuinely concerned with the place (front lawns) or the manner (signs) of the speech, but rather proscribes particular types of signs based on their content because the township fears their "primary" effect -- that they will cause those receiving the information to act upon it. Pp. 431 U. S. 93-94.

(b) Moreover, despite the importance of achieving the asserted goal of promoting stable, integrated housing, the ordinance cannot be upheld on the ground that it promotes an important governmental objective, since it does not appear that the ordinance was needed to achieve that objective and, in any event, the First Amendment disables the township from achieving that objective by restricting the free flow of truthful commercial information. Pp. 431 U. S. 94-97.

535 F.2d 786, reversed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined except REHNQUIST, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 431 U. S. 86

Primary Holding
Preventing white flight from a racially integrated community does not justify a locality in forbidding the posting of "for sale" signs.
Facts
Willingboro passed an ordinance that prohibited posting "For Sale" or "Sold" signs. It was designed to curb white flight from a community that was becoming racially integrated. A realtor, Linmark, argued that the ordinance violated the First Amendment.

Opinions

Majority

  • Thurgood Marshall (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Potter Stewart
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • John Paul Stevens

Residents of the town have a strong interest in obtaining information about the sale of homes, which affects critical decisions on where to live. The town hindered their ability to access this information because of the content of the information rather than the commercial character of the information, so heightened scrutiny is appropriate. There was little evidence of white flight in the community, and the town failed to prove that prohibiting the signs would achieve the goal that it sought to achieve. Therefore, the ordinance could not pass constitutional review under any standard of First Amendment analysis.

Recused

  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)

Case Commentary

Even when using the lowest standard of review, the government's rule is invalid because the interest that it has cited is not legitimate and based on irrational assumptions.

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