SW Legal studies in Business

Statute Controlling Speech on Signs on Private Property Near Highways Unconstitutional
Description Texas appeals court struck down the state's Highway Beautification Act as unconstitutional because it requires property owners to obtain state permission to erect signs that can be seen from highways. The regulation of content on signs violates property rights and the First Amendment.
Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words Property Rights; First Amendment; Regulation
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Barber erected a sign on his property facing Interstate 20 in SW Legal Texas. The sign said "Just Say NO to Searches" and gave a phone number. Callers received information about a citizen's constitutional rights regarding police searches of automobiles. The Texas Department of Transportation sent Barber a letter telling him that the sign violated the Highway Beautification Act. He must remove the sign or obtain a permit from the Department to have a sign that complies with Department regulations. The trial court ordered Barber to remove the sign and to pay the Department's attorneys' fees. He appealed.
Decision Reversed. "Property rights are not created by the Constitution, but by independent sources, such as state law. In Texas, property rights are considered 'sacred and fundamental.' The ownership of property is defined not merely as the right to own and possess the chattel or the land, but to use, enjoy, and dispose of it as one sees fit." The state may use its police powers to regulate the use of property, but the rules must bear a reasonable relationship to public health, safety or welfare, which is the justification for the Highway Beautification Act. The Act is unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment. It controls the content of speech. Barber had no other reasonable way to convey his message to motorists, so the Act is invalid.
Citation Barber v. Texas Department of Transportation, -S.W.3d - (2001 WL 325051, Ct. App., Tx., 2001)

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