JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.
Section 28.04 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code prohibits the posting of signs on public property.
In March 1979, Roland Vincent was a candidate for election to the Los Angeles City Council. A group of his supporters known as Taxpayers for Vincent (Taxpayers) entered into a contract with a political sign service company known as Candidates' Outdoor Graphics Service (COGS) to fabricate and post signs with Vincent's name on them. COGS produced 15- by 44-inch cardboard signs and attached them to utility poles at various locations by draping them over crosswires
Acting under the authority of § 28.04 of the Municipal Code, employees of the city's Bureau of Street Maintenance routinely removed all posters attached to utility poles and similar objects covered by the ordinance, including the COGS signs. The weekly sign removal report covering the period March 1-March 7, 1979, indicated that among the 1,207 signs removed from public property during that week, 48 were identified as "Roland Vincent" signs. Most of the other signs identified in that report were apparently commercial in character.
On March 12, 1979, Taxpayers and COGS filed this action in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, naming the city, the Director of the Bureau of Street Maintenance, and members of the City Council as defendants.
The District Court's findings do not purport to resolve any disputed issue of fact; instead, they summarize material in the record that appears to be uncontroverted. The findings recite that the principal responsibility for locating and removing
After explaining the purposes for which the City's zoning code had been enacted, and noting that the prohibition in § 28.04 furthered those purposes, the District Court found that the large number of illegally posted signs "constitute a clutter and visual blight."
In addition, the District Court found that placing signs on utility poles creates a potential safety hazard, and that other violations of § 28.04 "block views and otherwise cause traffic hazards."
In its conclusions of law the District Court characterized the esthetic and economic interests in improving the beauty of the City "by eliminating clutter and visual blight" as "legitimate and compelling."
The Court of Appeals did not question any of the District Court's findings of fact, but it rejected some of its conclusions of law. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the ordinance was presumptively unconstitutional because significant First Amendment interests were involved. It noted that the City had advanced three separate justifications for the ordinance, but concluded that none of them was sufficient. The Court of Appeals held that the City had failed to make a sufficient showing that its asserted interests in esthetics and preventing visual clutter were substantial because it had not offered to demonstrate that the City was engaged in a comprehensive effort to remove other contributions to an unattractive environment in commercial and industrial areas. The City's interest in minimizing traffic hazards was rejected because it was readily apparent that no substantial traffic problems would result from permitting the posting of certain kinds of signs on many of the publicly owned objects covered by the ordinance. Finally, while acknowledging that a flat prohibition against signs on certain objects such as fire hydrants and traffic signals would be a permissible method of preventing
In its appeal to this Court the City challenges the Court of Appeals' holding that § 28.04 is unconstitutional on its face. Taxpayers and COGS defend that holding and also contend that the ordinance is unconstitutional as applied to their posting of political campaign signs on the crosswires of utility poles. There are two quite different ways in which a statute or ordinance may be considered invalid "on its face" — either because it is unconstitutional in every conceivable application, or because it seeks to prohibit such a broad range of protected conduct that it is unconstitutionally "overbroad." We shall analyze the "facial" challenges to the ordinance, and then address its specific application to appellees.
The seminal cases in which the Court held state legislation unconstitutional "on its face" did not involve any departure from the general rule that a litigant only has standing to vindicate his own constitutional rights. In Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359 (1931),
Subsequently, however, the Court did recognize an exception to this general rule for laws that are written so broadly that they may inhibit the constitutionally protected speech of third parties. This "overbreadth" doctrine has its source in Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88 (1940). In that case the Court concluded that the very existence of some broadly written statutes may have such a deterrent effect on free expression that they should be subject to challenge even by a party whose own conduct may be unprotected.
In the development of the overbreadth doctrine the Court has been sensitive to the risk that the doctrine itself might sweep so broadly that the exception to ordinary standing requirements would swallow the general rule. In order to decide whether the overbreadth exception is applicable in a particular case, we have weighed the likelihood that the statute's very existence will inhibit free expression.
The concept of "substantial overbreadth" is not readily reduced to an exact definition. It is clear, however, that the mere fact that one can conceive of some impermissible applications of a statute is not sufficient to render it susceptible to an overbreadth challenge.
In short, there must be a realistic danger that the statute itself will significantly compromise recognized First Amendment protections of parties not before the Court for it to be facially challenged on overbreadth grounds. See Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, 422 U.S. 205, 216 (1975). See also Ohralik v. Ohio State Bar Assn., 436 U.S. 447, 462, n. 20 (1978); Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 760-761 (1974).
The Court of Appeals concluded that the ordinance was vulnerable to an overbreadth challenge because it was an "overinclusive" response to traffic concerns and not the "least drastic means" of preventing interference with the normal use of public property. This conclusion rested on an evaluation of the assumed effect of the ordinance on third parties, rather than on any specific consideration of the impact of the ordinance on the parties before the court. This is not, however, an appropriate case to entertain a facial challenge based on overbreadth. For we have found nothing in the record to indicate that the ordinance will have any different impact on any third parties' interests in free speech than it has on Taxpayers and COGS.
Taxpayers and COGS apparently would agree that the prohibition against posting signs on most of the publicly owned objects mentioned in the ordinance is perfectly reasonable. Thus, they do not dispute the City's power to proscribe the attachment of any handbill or sign to any sidewalk, crosswalk, curb, lamppost, hydrant, or lifesaving equipment.
Taxpayers and COGS do argue generally that the City's interest in eliminating visual blight is not sufficiently weighty to justify an abridgment of speech. If that were the only interest the ordinance advanced, then this argument would be analogous to the facial challenges involved in cases like Stromberg and Lovell. But as previously observed, appellees acknowledge that the ordinance serves safety interests in many of its applications, and hence do not argue that the ordinance can never be validly applied. Instead, appellees argue that they have placed their signs in locations where only the esthetic interest is implicated. In addition, they argue that they have developed an expertise in not "placing signs in offensive manners which will alienate its own clientele
The ordinance prohibits appellees from communicating with the public in a certain manner, and presumably diminishes the total quantity of their communication in the City.
As Stromberg and Lovell demonstrate, there are some purported interests — such as a desire to suppress support for a minority party or an unpopular cause, or to exclude the expression of certain points of view from the marketplace of ideas — that are so plainly illegitimate that they would immediately invalidate the rule. The general principle that has emerged from this line of cases is that the First Amendment forbids the government to regulate speech in ways that favor some viewpoints or ideas at the expense of others. See Bolger v. Youngs Drug Products Corp., 463 U.S. 60, 65, 72 (1983); Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Service Comm'n, 447 U.S. 530, 535-536 (1980); Carey v. Brown, 447 U.S. 455, 462-463 (1980); Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc., 427 U.S. 50, 63-65, 67-68 (1976) (plurality opinion); Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92, 95-96 (1972).
That general rule has no application to this case. For there is not even a hint of bias or censorship in the City's enactment or enforcement of this ordinance. There is no claim that the ordinance was designed to suppress certain ideas that the City finds distasteful or that it has been applied to appellees because of the views that they express. The text of the ordinance is neutral — indeed it is silent — concerning any speaker's point of view, and the District Court's findings indicate that it has been applied to appellees and others in an evenhanded manner.
In United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968), the Court set forth the appropriate framework for reviewing a viewpoint-neutral regulation of this kind:
It is well settled that the state may legitimately exercise its police powers to advance esthetic values. Thus, in Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26, 32-33 (1954), in referring to the power of the legislature to remove blighted housing, this Court observed that such housing may be "an ugly sore, a blight on the community which robs it of charm, which makes it a place from which men turn." Ibid. We concluded: "The concept of the public welfare is broad and inclusive. The values it represents are spiritual as well as physical, aesthetic as well as monetary." Id., at 33 (citation omitted). See also Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, 438 U.S. 104, 129 (1978); Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 U.S. 1, 9 (1974); Euclid v. Ambler Co., 272 U.S. 365, 387-388 (1926); Welch v. Swasey, 214 U.S. 91, 108 (1909).
In this case, taxpayers and COGS do not dispute that it is within the constitutional power of the City to attempt to improve its appearance, or that this interest is basically unrelated to the suppression of ideas. Therefore the critical inquiries are whether that interest is sufficiently substantial to justify the effect of the ordinance on appellees' expression, and whether that effect is no greater than necessary to accomplish the City's purpose.
In Kovacs v. Cooper, 336 U.S. 77 (1949), the Court rejected the notion that a city is powerless to protect its citizens from unwanted exposure to certain methods of expression which may legitimately be deemed a public nuisance.
Metromedia, Inc. v. San Diego, supra, dealt with San Diego's prohibition of certain forms of outdoor billboards. There the Court considered the city's interest in avoiding visual clutter, and seven Justices explicitly concluded
We reaffirm the conclusion of the majority in Metromedia. The problem addressed by this ordinance — the visual assault on the citizens of Los Angeles presented by an accumulation of signs posted on public property — constitutes a significant substantive evil within the City's power to prohibit. "[T]he city's interest in attempting to preserve [or improve] the quality of urban life is one that must be accorded high respect." Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc., 427 U. S., at 71 (plurality opinion).
We turn to the question whether the scope of the restriction on appellees' expressive activity is substantially broader than necessary to protect the City's interest in eliminating visual clutter. The incidental restriction on expression which results from the City's attempt to accomplish such a purpose is considered justified as a reasonable regulation of the time, place, or manner of expression if it is narrowly tailored to serve that interest. See, e. g., Heffron v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc., 452 U.S. 640, 647-648 (1981); Schad v. Mount Ephraim, 452 U.S. 61, 68-71 (1981); Carey v. Brown, 447 U. S., at 470-471 (1980); Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 115-117 (1972); Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U. S., at 98. The District Court found that the signs prohibited by the ordinance do constitute visual clutter and blight. By banning these signs, the City did no more than eliminate the exact source of the evil it sought to remedy.
It is true that the esthetic interest in preventing the kind of litter that may result from the distribution of leaflets on the public streets and sidewalks cannot support a prophylactic prohibition against the citizen's exercise of that method of expressing his views. In Schneider v. State, 308 U.S. 147 (1939), the Court held that ordinances that absolutely prohibited handbilling on the streets were invalid. The Court explained that cities could adequately protect the esthetic interest
The rationale of Schneider is inapposite in the context of the instant case. There, individual citizens were actively exercising their right to communicate directly with potential recipients of their message. The conduct continued only while the speakers or distributors remained on the scene. In this case, appellees posted dozens of temporary signs throughout an area where they would remain unattended until removed. As the Court expressly noted in Schneider, the First Amendment does not "deprive a municipality of power to enact regulations against throwing literature broadcast in the streets. Prohibition of such conduct would not abridge the constitutional liberty since such activity bears no necessary relationship to the freedom to speak, write, print or distribute information or opinion." 308 U. S., at 160-161. In short, there is no constitutional impediment to "the punishment of those who actually throw papers on the streets." Id., at 162. A distributor of leaflets has no right simply to scatter his pamphlets in the air — or to toss large quantities of paper from the window of a tall building or a low flying airplane. Characterizing such an activity as a separate means of communication does not diminish the State's power to condemn it as a public nuisance. The right recognized in
With respect to signs posted by appellees, however, it is the tangible medium of expressing the message that has the adverse impact on the appearance of the landscape. In Schneider, an antilittering statute could have addressed the substantive evil without prohibiting expressive activity, whereas application of the prophylactic rule actually employed gratuitously infringed upon the right of an individual to communicate directly with a willing listener. Here, the substantive evil — visual blight — is not merely a possible byproduct of the activity, but is created by the medium of expression itself. In contrast to Schneider, therefore, the application of the ordinance in this case responds precisely to the substantive problem which legitimately concerns the City. The ordinance curtails no more speech than is necessary to accomplish its purpose.
The Court of Appeals accepted the argument that a prohibition against the use of unattractive signs cannot be justified on esthetic grounds if it fails to apply to all equally unattractive signs wherever they might be located. A comparable argument was categorically rejected in Metromedia. In that case it was argued that the city could not simultaneously permit billboards to be used for onsite advertising and also justify the prohibition against offsite advertising on esthetic grounds, since both types of advertising were equally unattractive.
Furthermore, there is no finding that in any area where appellees seek to place signs, there are already so many signs posted on adjacent private property that the elimination of appellees' signs would have an inconsequential effect on the esthetic values with which the City is concerned. There is simply no predicate in the findings of the District Court for
While the First Amendment does not guarantee the right to employ every conceivable method of communication at all times and in all places, Heffron v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc., 452 U. S., at 647, a restriction on expressive activity may be invalid if the remaining modes of communication are inadequate. See, e. g., United States v. Grace, 461 U.S. 171, 177 (1983); Heffron v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc., 452 U. S., at 654-655; Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Service Comm'n, 447 U. S., at 535; Linmark Associates, Inc. v. Willingboro, 431 U.S. 85, 93 (1977). The Los Angeles ordinance does not affect any individual's freedom to exercise the right to speak and to distribute literature in the same place where the posting of signs on public property is prohibited.
Appellees suggest that the public property covered by the ordinance either is itself a "public forum" for First Amendment purposes, or at least should be treated in the same respect as the "public forum" in which the property is located. "Traditional public forum property occupies a special position in terms of First Amendment protection," United States v. Grace, 461 U. S., at 180, and appellees maintain that their sign-posting activities are entitled to this protection.
In Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496, 515-516 (1939) (opinion of Roberts, J.), it was recognized:
See also Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U. S., at 115; Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, 394 U.S. 147, 152 (1969); Kunz v. New York, 340 U.S. 290, 293 (1951); Schneider v. State, 308 U. S., at 163.
Appellees' reliance on the public forum doctrine is misplaced. They fail to demonstrate the existence of a traditional right of access respecting such items as utility poles for purposes of their communication comparable to that recognized for public streets and parks, and it is clear that "the First Amendment does not guarantee access to government property simply because it is owned or controlled by the government." United States Postal Service v. Greenburgh Civic Assns., 453 U.S. 114, 129 (1981). Rather, the "existence of a right of access to public property and the standard by which limitations upon such a right must be evaluated differ depending on the character of the property at issue." Perry Education Assn. v. Perry Local Educators' Assn., 460 U.S. 37, 44 (1983).
Lampposts can of course be used as signposts, but the mere fact that government property can be used as a vehicle for communication does not mean that the Constitution requires such uses to be permitted. Cf. United States Postal Service v. Greenburgh Civic Assns., 453 U. S., at 131.
Finally, Taxpayers and COGS argue that Los Angeles could have written an ordinance that would have had a less severe effect on expressive activity such as theirs, by permitting the posting of any kind of sign at any time on some types of public property, or by making a variety of other more specific exceptions to the ordinance: for signs carrying certain types of messages (such as political campaign signs), for signs posted during specific time periods (perhaps during political campaigns), for particular locations (perhaps for areas already cluttered by an excessive number of signs on adjacent private property), or for signs meeting design specifications (such as size or color). Plausible public policy arguments
Any constitutionally mandated exception to the City's total prohibition against temporary signs on public property would necessarily rest on a judicial determination that the City's traffic control and safety interests had little or no applicability within the excepted category, and that the City's interests in esthetics are not sufficiently important to justify the prohibition in that category. But the findings of the District Court provide no basis for questioning the substantiality of the esthetic interest at stake, or for believing that a uniquely important form of communication has been abridged for the categories of expression engaged in by Taxpayers and COGS. Therefore, we accept the City's position that it may decide that the esthetic interest in avoiding "visual clutter" justifies
As recognized in Metromedia, if the city has a sufficient basis for believing that billboards are traffic hazards and are unattractive, "then obviously the most direct and perhaps the only effective approach to solving the problems they create is to prohibit them." 453 U. S., at 508. As is true of billboards, the esthetic interests that are implicated by temporary signs are presumptively at work in all parts of the city, including those where appellees posted their signs, and there is no basis in the record in this case upon which to rebut that presumption. These interests are both psychological and economic. The character of the environment affects the quality of life and the value of property in both residential and commercial areas. We hold that on this record these interests are sufficiently substantial to justify this content-neutral, impartially administered prohibition against the posting of appellees' temporary signs on public property and that such an application of the ordinance does not create an unacceptable threat to the "profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open." New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 270 (1964).
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded to that Court.
It is so ordered.
The plurality opinion in Metromedia, Inc. v. San Diego, 453 U.S. 490 (1981), concluded that the City of San Diego could, consistently with the First Amendment, restrict the commercial use of billboards in order to "preserve and improve the appearance of the City." Id., at 493. Today, the Court sustains the constitutionality of Los Angeles' similarly motivated ban on the posting of political signs on public property. Because the Court's lenient approach towards the restriction of speech for reasons of aesthetics threatens seriously to undermine the protections of the First Amendment, I dissent.
The Court finds that the City's "interest [in eliminating visual clutter] is sufficiently substantial to justify the effect of the ordinance on appellees' expression" and that the effect of the ordinance on speech is "no greater than necessary to accomplish the City's purpose." Ante, at 805. These are the right questions to consider when analyzing the constitutionality of the challenged ordinance, see Metromedia, supra, at 525-527 (BRENNAN, J., concurring in judgment); Heffron v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc., 452 U.S. 640, 656 (1981) (BRENNAN, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part), but the answers that the Court provides reflect a startling insensitivity to the principles embodied in the First Amendment. In my view, the City of Los Angeles has not shown that its interest in eliminating "visual clutter" justifies its restriction of appellees' ability to communicate with the local electorate.
The Court recognizes that each medium for communicating ideas and information presents its own particular problems. Our analysis of the First Amendment concerns implicated by a given medium must therefore be sensitive to these particular problems and characteristics. The posting of signs is,
In deciding this First Amendment question, the critical importance of the posting of signs as a means of communication must not be overlooked. Use of this medium of communication is particularly valuable in part because it entails a relatively small expense in reaching a wide audience, allows flexibility in accommodating various formats, typographies, and graphics, and conveys its message in a manner that is easily read and understood by its reader or viewer. There may be alternative channels of communication, but the prevalence of a large number of signs in Los Angeles
Nevertheless, the City of Los Angeles asserts that ample alternative avenues of communication are available. The City notes that, although the posting of signs on public property is prohibited, the posting of signs on private property and the distribution of handbills are not. Brief for Appellants
Similarly, the adequacy of distributing handbills is dubious, despite certain advantages of handbills over signs. See Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 145-146 (1943). Particularly when the message to be carried is best expressed by a few words or a graphic image, a message on a sign will typically reach far more people than one on a handbill. The message on a posted sign remains to be seen by passersby as long as it is posted, while a handbill is typically read by a single reader and discarded. Thus, not only must handbills be printed in large quantity, but many hours must be spent distributing them. The average cost of communicating by handbill is therefore likely to be far higher than the average cost of communicating by poster. For that reason, signs posted on public property are doubtless "essential to the poorly financed causes of little people," id., at 146, and their prohibition constitutes a total ban on an important medium of communication. Cf. Stone, Fora Americana: Speech in Public Places, 1974 S. Ct. Rev. 233, 257. Because the City has completely banned the use of this particular medium of communication, and because, given the circumstances, there are no equivalent alternative media that provide an adequate substitute, the Court must examine with particular care the justifications that the City proffers for its ban. See Metromedia, supra, at 525-527 (BRENNAN, J., concurring
As the Court acknowledges, ante, at 805, when an ordinance significantly limits communicative activity, "the delicate and difficult task falls upon the courts to weigh the circumstances and to appraise the substantiality of the reasons advanced in support of the regulation." Schneider v. State, 308 U.S. 147, 161 (1939). The Court's first task is to determine whether the ordinance is aimed at suppressing the content of speech, and, if it is, whether a compelling state interest justifies the suppression. Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Service Comm'n, 447 U.S. 530, 540 (1980); Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92, 99 (1972). If the restriction is content-neutral, the court's task is to determine (1) whether the governmental objective advanced by the restriction is substantial, and (2) whether the restriction imposed on speech is no greater than is essential to further that objective. Unless both conditions are met the restriction must be invalidated. See ante, at 805, 808, 810.
My suggestion in Metromedia was that courts should exercise special care in addressing these questions when a purely aesthetic objective is asserted to justify a restriction of speech. Specifically, "before deferring to a city's judgment, a court must be convinced that the city is seriously and comprehensively addressing aesthetic concerns with respect to its environment." 453 U. S., at 531. I adhere to that view. Its correctness — premised largely on my concern that aesthetic interests are easy for a city to assert and difficult for a court to evaluate — is, for me, reaffirmed by this case.
The fundamental problem in this kind of case is that a purely aesthetic state interest offered to justify a restriction on speech — that is, a governmental objective justified solely
Initially, a reviewing court faces substantial difficulties determining whether the actual objective is related to the suppression of speech. The asserted interest in aesthetics may be only a facade for content-based suppression. Of course, all would agree that the improvement and preservation
For example, in evaluating the ordinance before us in this case, the City might be pursuing either of two objectives, motivated by two very different judgments. One objective might be the elimination of "visual clutter," attributable in whole or in part to signs posted on public property. The aesthetic judgment underlying this objective would be that the clutter created by these signs offends the community's desire for an orderly, visually pleasing environment. A second objective might simply be the elimination of the messages typically carried by the signs.
A total ban on an important medium of communication may be upheld only if the government proves that the ban (1) furthers a substantial government objective, and (2) constitutes the least speech-restrictive means of achieving that objective. Schad v. Mount Ephraim, 452 U.S. 61 (1981). Here too, however, meaningful judicial application of these standards is seriously frustrated.
No one doubts the importance of a general governmental interest in aesthetics, but in order to justify a restriction of speech, the particular objective behind the restriction must be substantial. E. g., United States v. Grace, 461 U.S. 171, 177 (1983); Perry Education Assn. v. Perry Local Educators' Assn., 460 U.S. 37, 45 (1983); United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 377 (1968). Therefore, in order to uphold a restriction of speech imposed to further an aesthetic objective, a court must ascertain the substantiality of the specific objective pursued. Although courts ordinarily defer to the government's assertion that its objective is substantial, that assertion is not immune from critical examination. See, e. g., Schad v. Mount Ephraim, supra, at 72-73. This is particularly true when aesthetic objectives underlie the restrictions. But in such cases independent judicial assessment of the substantiality of the government's interest is difficult. Because aesthetic judgments are entirely subjective, the government may too easily overstate the substantiality of its goals. Accordingly, unless courts carefully scrutinize
Similarly, when a total ban is justified solely in terms of aesthetics, the means inquiry necessary to evaluate the constitutionality of the ban may be impeded by deliberate or unintended government manipulation. Governmental objectives that are purely aesthetic can usually be expressed in a virtually limitless variety of ways. Consequently, objectives can be tailored to fit whatever program the government devises to promote its general aesthetic interests. Once the government has identified a substantial aesthetic objective and has selected a preferred means of achieving its objective, it will be possible for the government to correct any mismatch between means and ends by redefining the ends to conform with the means.
In this case, for example, any of several objectives might be the City's actual substantial goal in banning temporary signs: (1) the elimination of all signs throughout the City, (2) the elimination of all signs in certain parts of the City, or (3) a reduction of the density of signs. Although a total ban on the posting of signs on public property would be the least restrictive means of achieving only the first objective, it would be a very effective means of achieving the other two as well. It is quite possible, therefore, that the City might select such a ban as the means by which to further its general interest in solving its sign problem, without explicitly considering which of the three specific objectives is really substantial. Then, having selected the total ban as its preferred means, the City would be strongly inclined to characterize the first objective as the substantial one. This might be done purposefully in order to conform the ban to the least-restrictive-means requirement, or it might be done inadvertently as a natural
This possibility of interdependence between means and ends in the development of policies to promote aesthetics poses a major obstacle to judicial review of the availability of alternative means that are less restrictive of speech. Indeed, when a court reviews a restriction of speech imposed in order to promote an aesthetic objective, there is a significant possibility that the court will be able to do little more than pay lipservice to the First Amendment inquiry into the availability of less restrictive alternatives. The means may fit the ends only because the ends were defined with the means in mind. In this case, for example, the City has expressed an aesthetic judgment that signs on public property constitute visual clutter throughout the City and that its objective is to eliminate visual clutter. We are then asked to determine whether that objective could have been achieved with less restriction of speech. But to ask the question is to highlight the circularity of the inquiry. Since the goal, at least as currently expressed, is essentially to eliminate all signs, the only available means of achieving that goal is to eliminate all signs.
The ease with which means can be equated with aesthetic ends only confirms the importance of close judicial scrutiny of the substantiality of such ends. See supra, at 824-825. In this case, for example, it is essential that the Court assess the City's ban on signs by evaluating whether the City has a substantial interest in eliminating the visual clutter caused by all posted signs throughout the City — as distinguished from an interest in banning signs in some areas or in preventing densely packed signs. If, in fact, either of the latter two objectives constitute the substantial interest underlying this ordinance, they could be achieved by means far less restrictive
Regrettably, the Court's analysis is seriously inadequate. Because the Court has failed to develop a reliable means of gauging the nature or depth of the City's commitment to pursuing the goal of eradicating "visual clutter," it simply approves the ordinance with only the most cursory degree of judicial oversight. Without stopping to consider carefully whether this supposed commitment is genuine or substantial, the Court essentially defers to the City's aesthetic judgment and in so doing precludes serious assessment of the availability of alternative means.
The Court begins by simply affirming that "[t]he problem addressed by this ordinance — the visual assault on the citizens of Los Angeles presented by an accumulation of signs posted on public property — constitutes a significant substantive end within the City's power to prohibit." Ante, at 807. Then, addressing the availability of less restrictive alternatives, the Court can do little more than state the unsurprising conclusion that "[b]y banning these signs, the City did no more than eliminate the exact source of the evil it sought to remedy." Ante, at 808. Finally, as if to explain the ease with which it reaches its conclusion, the Court notes that "[w]ith respect to signs posted by appellees . . . it is the tangible medium of expressing the message that has adverse impact on the appearance of the landscape." Ante, at 810. But, as I have demonstrated, it is precisely the ability of the State to make this judgment that should lead us to approach these cases with more caution.
The fact that there are difficulties inherent in judicial review of aesthetics-based restrictions of speech does not imply
In cases like this, where a total ban is imposed on a particularly valuable method of communication, a court should require the government to provide tangible proof of the legitimacy and substantiality of its aesthetic objective. Justifications for such restrictions articulated by the government should be critically examined to determine whether the government has committed itself to addressing the identified aesthetic problem.
In my view, such statements of aesthetic objectives should be accepted as substantial and unrelated to the suppression of speech only if the government demonstrates that it is pursuing an identified objective seriously and comprehensively and in ways that are unrelated to the restriction of speech. Metromedia, 453 U. S., at 531 (BRENNAN, J., concurring in judgment). Without such a demonstration, I would invalidate the restriction as violative of the First Amendment. By requiring this type of showing, courts can ensure that governmental regulation of the aesthetic environment remains within the constraints established by the First Amendment. First, we would have a reasonably reliable indication that it is not the content or communicative aspect of speech that the government finds unaesthetic. Second, when a restriction of speech is part of a comprehensive and seriously pursued program to promote an aesthetic objective, we have a more reliable indication of the government's own assessment of the substantiality of its objective. And finally, when an aesthetic objective is pursued on more than one front, we have a better basis upon which to ascertain its precise nature
This does not mean that a government must address all aesthetic problems at one time or that a government should hesitate to pursue aesthetic objectives. What it does mean, however, is that when such an objective is pursued, it may not be pursued solely at the expense of First Amendment freedoms, nor may it be pursued by arbitrarily discriminating against a form of speech that has the same aesthetic characteristics as other forms of speech that are also present in the community. See Metromedia, supra, at 531-534 (BRENNAN, J., concurring in judgment).
Accordingly, in order for Los Angeles to succeed in defending its total ban on the posting of signs, the City would have to demonstrate that it is pursuing its goal of eliminating visual clutter in a serious and comprehensive manner. Most importantly, the City would have to show that it is pursuing its goal through programs other than its ban on signs, that at least some of those programs address the visual clutter problem through means that do not entail the restriction of speech, and that the programs parallel the ban in their stringency, geographical scope, and aesthetic focus. In this case, however, as the Court of Appeals found, there is no indication that the City has addressed its visual clutter problem in any way other than by prohibiting the posting of signs —
In light of the extreme stringency of Los Angeles' ban — barring all signs from being posted — and its wide geographical scope — covering the entire City — it might be difficult for Los Angeles to make the type of showing I have suggested. Cf. Metromedia, supra, at 533-534. A more limited approach to the visual clutter problem, however, might well pass constitutional muster. I have no doubt that signs posted on public property in certain areas — including, perhaps, parts of Los Angeles — could contribute to the type of eyesore that a city would genuinely have a substantial interest in eliminating. These areas might include parts of the City that are particularly pristine, reserved for certain uses, designated to reflect certain themes, or so blighted that broad-gauged renovation is necessary. Presumably, in these types of areas, the City would also regulate the aesthetic environment in ways other than the banning of temporary signs. The City might zone such areas for a particular type of development or lack of development; it might actively create a particular type of environment; it might be especially vigilant in keeping the area clean; it might regulate the size and location of permanent signs; or it might reserve particular locations, such as kiosks, for the posting of temporary signs. Similarly, Los Angeles might be able to attack its visual clutter problem in more areas of the City by reducing the stringency of the ban, perhaps by regulating the density of temporary signs, and coupling that approach with additional measures designed to reduce other forms of visual clutter. There are a variety of ways that the aesthetic environment can be regulated, some restrictive of speech and others not, but it is only when aesthetic regulation is addressed in a comprehensive and focused manner that we can ensure that the
In the absence of such a showing in this case, I believe that Los Angeles' total ban sweeps so broadly and trenches so completely on appellees' use of an important medium of political expression that it must be struck down as violative of the First Amendment.
I therefore dissent.
"Sec. 28.04. Hand-bills, signs-public places and objects:
"(a) No person shall paint, mark or write on, or post or otherwise affix, any hand-bill or sign to or upon any sidewalk, crosswalk, curb, curbstone, street lamp post, hydrant, tree, shrub, tree stake or guard, railroad trestle, electric light or power or telephone or telegraph or trolley wire pole, or wire appurtenance thereof or upon any fixture of the fire alarm or police telegraph system or upon any lighting system, public bridge, drinking fountain, life buoy, life preserver, life boat or other life saving equipment, street sign or traffic sign.
"(b) Nothing in this section contained shall apply to the installation of terrazzo sidewalks or sidewalks of similar construction, sidewalks permanently colored by an admixture in the material of which the same are constructed, and for which the Board of Public Works has granted a written permit.
"(c) Any hand-bill or sign found posted, or otherwise affixed upon any public property contrary to the provisions of this section may be removed by the Police Department or the Department of Public Works. The person responsible for any such illegal posting shall be liable for the cost incurred in the removal thereof and the Department of Public Works is authorized to effect the collection of said cost.
"(d) Nothing in this section shall apply to the installation of a metal plaque or plate or individual letters or figures in a sidewalk commemorating an historical, cultural, or artistic event, location or personality for which the Board of Public Works, with the approval of the Council, has granted a written permit.
"(e) Nothing in this section shall apply to the painting of house numbers upon curbs done under permits issued by the Board of Public Works under and in accordance with the provisions of Section 62.96 of this Code."
"Leonard's Nite Club 11 Raul Palomo, Jr. 12 Alamar Travel Bureau Inc. 5 Roland Vincent 48 The Item — Madam Wongs 13 The American Club 2 Salon Broadway 14 Rose Royce 11 Vernon Auditorium — Apache Total Experience 13" Jupiter 20 App. 73.
"The Los Angeles Planning and Zoning Code was enacted in part to encourage the most appropriate use of land; to conserve and stabilize the value of property; to provide adequate open spaces for light and air; to prevent and fight fire; to lessen congestion on streets; to facilitate adequate provisions for community utilities and facilities and to promote health, safety, and the general welfare, all in accordance with a comprehensive plan." Finding 11, App. to Juris. Statement 17a.
"The large number of signs illegally posted on the items of public and utility property enumerated in Section 28.04 constitute a clutter and visual blight. The posting of signs on utility pole cross wires for which the plaintiffs [seek] authorization would add somewhat to the blight and inevitably would encourage greatly increased posting in other unauthorized and unsightly places by people not aware of the distinction the plaintiffs seek to make."
"The maintenance of the opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes may be obtained by lawful means, an opportunity essential to the security of the Republic, is a fundamental principle of our constitutional system. A statute which upon its face, and as authoritatively construed, is so vague and indefinite as to permit the punishment of the fair use of this opportunity is repugnant to the guaranty of liberty contained in the Fourteenth Amendment. The . . . statute being invalid upon its face, the conviction of the appellant . . . must be set aside." 283 U. S., at 369-370.
"We think that the ordinance is invalid on its face. Whatever the motive which induced its adoption, its character is such that it strikes at the very foundation of the freedom of the press by subjecting it to license and censorship. The struggle for the freedom of the press was primarily directed against the power of the licensor. It was against that power that John Milton directed his assault by his `Appeal for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing.' And the liberty of the press became initially a right to publish `without a license what formerly could be published only with one.' While this freedom from previous restraint upon publication cannot be regarded as exhausting the guaranty of liberty, the prevention of that restraint was a leading purpose in the adoption of the constitutional provision." 303 U. S., at 451-452 (footnote omitted).
"At least when statutes regulate or proscribe speech and when `no readily apparent construction suggests itself as a vehicle for rehabilitating the statutes in a single prosecution,' Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479, 491 (1965), the transcendent value to all society of constitutionally protected expression is deemed to justify allowing `attacks on overly broad statutes with no requirement that the person making the attack demonstrate that his own conduct could not be regulated by a statute drawn with the requisite narrow specificity,' id., at 486. This is deemed necessary because persons whose expression is constitutionally protected may well refrain from exercising their rights for fear of criminal sanctions provided by a statute susceptible of application to protected expression." Id., at 520-521 (citations omitted).
See also, e. g., Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479, 494 (1965).
"Simply put, the doctrine asserts that an overbroad regulation of speech or publication may be subject to facial review and invalidation, even though its application in the instant case is constitutionally unobjectionable. Thus, a person whose activity could validly be suppressed under a more narrowly drawn law is allowed to challenge an overbroad law because of its application to others. The bare possibility of unconstitutional application is not enough; the law is unconstitutionally overbroad only if it reaches substantially beyond the permissible scope of legislative regulation. Thus, the issue under the overbreadth doctrine is whether a government restriction of speech that is arguably valid as applied to the case at hand should nevertheless be invalidated to avoid the substantial prospect of unconstitutional application elsewhere." Jeffries, Rethinking Prior Restraint, 92 Yale L. J. 409, 425 (1983) (emphasis supplied).
However, where the statute unquestionably attaches sanctions to protected conduct, the likelihood that the statute will deter that conduct is ordinarily sufficiently great to justify an overbreadth attack. Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, 422 U.S. 205, 217 (1975).
"No COGS signs are posted on sidewalk surfaces, streetlamp posts, hydrants, trees, shrubs, treestacks or guards, vertical utility poles, fire alarm or police telegraph systems, drinking fountains, lifebuoys, life preservers, lifesaving equipment or street or traffic signs."
"The unwilling listener is not like the passer-by who may be offered a pamphlet in the street but cannot be made to take it. In his home or on the street he is practically helpless to escape this interference with his privacy by loud speakers except through the protection of the municipality.
"City streets are recognized as a normal place for the exchange of ideas by speech or paper. But this does not mean the freedom is beyond all control. We think it is a permissible exercise of legislative discretion to bar sound trucks with broadcasts of public interest, amplified to a loud and raucous volume, from the public ways of municipalities. On the business streets of cities like Trenton, with its more than 125,000 people, such distractions would be dangerous to traffic at all hours useful for the dissemination of information, and in the residential thoroughfares the quiet and tranquility so desirable for city dwellers would likewise be at the mercy of advocates of particular religious, social or political persuasions. We cannot believe that rights of free speech compel a municipality to allow such mechanical voice amplification on any of its streets." 336 U. S., at 86-87 (plurality opinion).
A majority of the Court agreed with this analysis. See id., at 96-97 (Frankfurter, J., concurring); id., at 97-98 (Jackson, J., concurring).
"Third, San Diego has obviously chosen to value one kind of commercial speech — onsite advertising — more than another kind of commercial speech — offsite advertising. The ordinance reflects a decision by the city that the former interest, but not the latter, is stronger than the city's interests in traffic safety and esthetics. The city has decided that in a limited instance — onsite commercial advertising — its interests should yield. We do not reject that judgment." Id., at 512.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE REHNQUIST, and JUSTICE STEVENS agreed with the plurality on this point. Id., at 541 (STEVENS, J., dissenting in part); id., at 563-564 (BURGER, C. J., dissenting); id., at 570 (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting).
"Aesthetic policy, as currently formulated and implemented at the federal, state, and local levels, often partakes more of high farce than of the rule of law. Its purposes are seldom accurately or candidly portrayed, let alone understood, by its most vehement champions. Its diversion to dubious or flatly deplorable social ends undermines the credit that it may merit when soundly conceived and executed. Its indiscriminate, often quixotic demands have overwhelmed legal institutions, which all too frequently have compromised the integrity of legislative, administrative, and judicial processes in the name of `beauty.' " Costonis, Law and Aesthetics: A Critique and a Reformation of the Dilemmas, 80 Mich. L. Rev. 355 (1982).