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Judges Toss Scottsdale’s Ban on “Sign Walkers”

June 30, 2015

Phoenix—Today the Arizona Court of Appeals tossed out the City of Scottsdale’s ban on “sign walkers”—people who carry signs to advertise local businesses.

Scottsdale, famous for its luxury hotels and golf courses, had completely banned sign walkers from using public sidewalks and other public spaces. The ban carries stiff penalties, including jail time. Today, the Arizona Court of Appeals threw out this ban, saying Scottsdale could regulate, but not ban, the industry.  

“This is a victory for the little guy against the government Goliath. Scottsdale tried to extinguish an entire industry and the people who earn their living in an innocent way. The Court decided that Scottsdale can reasonably regulate sign walkers, but cannot ban them. That’s the right balance,” said Clint Bolick, the vice president of litigation for the Goldwater Institute.

In 2008, the Arizona Legislature passed a law that pre-empted city bans on sign walkers’ use of public sidewalks and made the practice legal throughout the state. But Scottsdale continued to enforce its ban. So, the Legislature passed a new state law in 2014 to force Scottsdale to lift its ban. Rather than comply with the new law, Scottsdale filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming its authority as a charter city trumps state law. Sign walkers, represented by the Goldwater Institute, joined the lawsuit to defend the state law.

The Goldwater Institute represents Jim Torgeson and his company, Sign King, LLC, because Scottsdale’s ban violates his and his employees’ right to free speech under the Arizona and U.S. constitutions. Article 2, section 6 of the Arizona Constitution provides: “Every person may freely speak, write, and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right.” Scottsdale’s ban prohibits human-held signs with commercial messages. Specifically, the Institute argued that protecting free speech is a statewide interest that justifies the state statute and pre-empts Scottsdale’s sweeping ban.

“Two separate court decisions have now said Scottsdale’s ban is out of line. We hope Scottsdale will drop this lawsuit and stop using taxpayer resources to try to put people out of work,” said Bolick.



About the Goldwater Institute

The Goldwater Institute drives results by working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and strengthen the freedom guaranteed to all Americans in the constitutions of the United States and all 50 states. With the blessing of its namesake, the Goldwater Institute opened in 1988. Its early years focused on defending liberty in Barry Goldwater’s home state of Arizona. Today, the Goldwater Institute is a national leader for constitutionally limited government respected by the left and right for its adherence to principle and real world impact. No less a liberal icon than the New York Times calls the Goldwater Institute a “watchdog for conservative ideals” that plays an “outsize role” in American political life.



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