The city of New York passed an ordinance that disallowed regular street vehicles from advertising on the vehicle. However, advertising was permitted on vehicles which were primarily used for business purposes. A company which transported products for its own business purposes advertised space for other businesses on the side of its trucks. The advertisements sold were unrelated to their own business and bought by other companies. The company was convicted of violating the ordinance. At trial the city argued that the point of the regulation was to protect the safety of roadways, as excessive advertising was a distraction for drivers. The company argued that the distinction between vehicles used primarily for advertising had no reasonable relationship with the stated purpose of the ordinance.
Whether the equal protection clause is violated by an ordinance that distinguishes between vehicles renting ad space for general advertising from vehicles used primarily for business purposes that advertise their own products.
No, the ordinance is constitutional. The court applied the “rationally-related” test, which stated that an ordinance or state statute is not unconstitutional in its discrimination among classes so long as the ordinance is rationally-related to a legitimate state interest. The court argued that this was a rational-related issue – the lowest level of scrutiny applied to an equal protection case – because it simply involved economic welfare of the parties involved of impacted by the statute.
Here the separation of classes was rationally-related to the goal of lessening advertising on the roadways. The court argued that so long as the city could articulate a legitimate state power that furthers the safety and welfare of its citizens, the law will be upheld.