The Public Forum.

In 1895, while on the highest court of Mas-sachusetts, future Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes rejected a contention that public property was by right open to the public as a place where the right of speech could be recognized,1444 and on review the United States Supreme Court endorsed Holmes’ view.1445 Years later, beginning with Hague v. CIO,1446 the Court reconsidered the issue. Justice Roberts wrote in Hague: “Wherever the title of streets and parks may rest, they have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions. Such use of the streets and public places has from ancient times, been a part of the privileges, immunities, rights, and liberties of citizens.” Although this opinion was not itself joined by a majority of the Justices, the Court subsequently endorsed the view in several opinions.1447

The Roberts view was called into question in the 1960s, however, when the Court seemed to leave the issue open,1448 and when a majority endorsed an opinion by Justice Black asserting his own narrower view of speech rights in public places.1449 Later decisions restated and quoted the Roberts language from Hague, and that is now the position of the Court.1450 Public streets and parks,1451 including those adjacent to courthouses1452 and foreign embassies,1453 as well as public libraries1454 and the grounds of legislative bodies,1455 are open to public demonstrations, although the uses to which public areas are dedicated may shape the range of permissible expression and conduct that may occur there.1456 Moreover, not all public properties are public forums. “[T]he First Amendment does not guarantee access to property simply because it is owned or controlled by the government.”1457 “The crucial question is whether the manner of expression is basically compatible with the normal activity of a particular place at a particular time.”1458 Thus, by the nature of the use to which the property is put or by tradition, some sites are simply not as open for expression as streets and parks are.

1459 But if government does open non-traditional forums for expressive activities, it may not discriminate on the basis of content or viewpoint in according access.1460 The Court, however, remains divided with respect to the reach of the public forum doctrine.1461

Speech in public forums is subject to time, place, and manner regulations that take into account such matters as control of traffic in the streets, the scheduling of two meetings or demonstrations at the same time and place, the preventing of blockages of building entrances, and the like.1462 Such regulations are closely scrutinized in order to protect free expression, and, to be valid, must be justified without reference to the content or subject matter of speech,1463 must serve a significant governmental interest,1464 and must leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.1465 The Court has written that a time, place, or manner regulation “must be narrowly tailored to serve the government’s legitimate, content-neutral interests but that it need not be the least restrictive or least intrusive means of doing so. Rather, the requirement of narrow tailoring is satisfied . . . [s]o long as the means chosen are not substantially broader than necessary to achieve the government’s interest . . . .”1466 A content-neutral time, place, and manner regulation of the use of a public forum must also “contain adequate standards to guide the official’s decision and render it subject to effective judicial review.”1467 Unlike a content-based licensing scheme, however, it need not “adhere to the procedural requirements set forth in Freedman.”1468 These requirements include that the “burden of proving that the film [or other speech] is unprotected expression must rest on the censor,” and that the censor must, “within a specified brief period, either issue a license or go to court to restrain showing the film. Any restraint imposed in advance of a final judicial determination on the merits must similarly be limited to preservation of the status quo for the shortest fixed period compatible with sound judicial resolution.”1469

A corollary to the rule forbidding regulation based on content is the principle—a merging of free expression and equal protection standards—that government may not discriminate between different kinds of messages in affording access.1470 In order to ensure against covert forms of discrimination against expression and between different kinds of content, the Court has insisted that licensing systems be constructed as free as possible of the opportunity for arbitrary administration.1471 The Court has also applied its general strictures against prior restraints in the contexts of permit systems and judicial restraint of expression.1472

It appears that government may not deny access to the public forum for demonstrators on the ground that the past meetings of these demonstrators resulted in violence,1473 and may not vary a demonstration licensing fee based on an estimate of the amount of hostility likely to be engendered,1474 but the Court’s position with regard to the “heckler’s veto,” the governmental termination of a speech or demonstration because of hostile crowd reaction, remains unclear.1475

The Court has defined three categories of public property for public forum analysis. First, there is the traditional public forum— places such as streets and parks that have traditionally been used for public assembly and debate, where the government may not prohibit all communicative activity and must justify content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions as narrowly tailored to serve a legitimate interest.1476 Second, there is the designated public forum, where the government opens property for communicative activity and thereby creates a public forum. Such a forum may be limited—hence the expression “limited public forum”—for “use by certain groups, e.g., Widmar v. Vincent (student groups), or for discussion of certain subjects, e.g., City of Madison Joint School District v. Wisconsin PERC (school board business),”1477 but, within the framework of such legitimate limitations, “a content-based prohibition must be narrowly drawn to effectuate a compelling state interest.”1478 Third, with respect to “[p]ublic property which is not by tradition or designation a forum for public communication,” the government “may reserve the forum for its intended purposes, communicative or otherwise, as long as the regulation on [sic] speech is reasonable and not an effort to suppress expression merely because public officials oppose the speaker’s view.”1479 The distinction between the first and second categories, on the one hand, and third category, on the other, can therefore determine the outcome of a case, because speakers may be excluded from the first and second categories only for a “compelling” governmental interest, whereas exclusion from the third category need only be “reasonable.”

The Court held that a school system did not create a limited public forum by opening an interschool mail system to use by selected civic groups “that engage in activities of interest and educational relevance to students,” and that, in any event, if a limited public forum had thereby been created a teachers union rivaling the exclusive bargaining representative could still be excluded as not being “of a similar character” to the civic groups.1480 Less problematic was the Court’s conclusion that utility poles and other municipal property did not constitute a public forum for the posting of signs.1481 More problematic was the Court’s conclusion that the Combined Federal Campaign, the Federal Government’s forum for coordinated charitable solicitation of federal employees, is not a limited public forum. Exclusion of various advocacy groups from participation in the Campaign was upheld as furthering “reasonable” governmental interests in offering a forum to “traditional health and welfare charities,” avoiding the appearance of governmental favoritism of particular groups or viewpoints, and avoiding disruption of the federal workplace by controversy.1482 The Court pinpointed the government’s intention as the key to whether a public forum has been created: “The government does not create a public forum by inaction or by permitting limited discourse, but only by intentionally opening a non-traditional forum for public discourse.”1483 Under this categorical approach, the government has wide discretion in maintaining the nonpublic character of its forums, and may regulate in ways that would be impermissible were it to designate a limited public forum.1484

Application of these principles continues to raise often difficult questions. In United States v. Kokinda, a majority of Justices, who ultimately upheld a ban on soliciting contributions on postal premises under the “reasonableness” review governing nonpublic fora, could not agree on the public forum status of a sidewalk located entirely on postal service property.1485 Two years later, in International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc. v. Lee, the Court similarly divided as to whether non-secured areas of airport terminals, including shops and restaurants, constitute public fora.1486 A five-Justice majority held that airport terminals are not public fora and upheld regulations banning the repetitive solicitation of money within the terminals.1487

A decade later, the Court considered the public forum status of the Internet. In United States v. American Library Association, Inc., a four-Justice plurality held that “Internet access in public libraries is neither a ‘traditional’ nor a ‘designated’ public forum.”1488 The plurality therefore did not apply strict scrutiny in upholding the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which provides that a public school or “library may not receive federal assistance to provide Internet access unless it installs software to block images that constitute obscenity or child pornography, and to prevent minors from obtaining access to material that is harmful to them.”1489

More recently, in Packingham v. North Carolina, the Court appeared to equate the Internet to traditional public fora like a street or public park. Specifically, Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court, observed that, “[w]hile in the past there may have been difficulty in identifying the most important places (in a spatial sense) for the exchange of views, today the answer is clear. It is cyberspace—the ‘vast democratic forums of the Internet’ in general, and social media in particular.”1490 Consequently, the Court struck down a North Carolina law making it a felony for registered sex offenders to use commercial social networking websites that allow minor children to be members, such as Facebook. Applying strict scrutiny, the Court held that the North Carolina law impermissibly restricted lawful speech as it was not narrowly tailored to serve the government’s interest in protecting minors from registered sex offenders because it “foreclose[d] access to social media altogether,” thereby “prevent- [ing] the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights.”1491

Nevertheless, although Internet access in public libraries is not a public forum, and particular Web sites, like particular newspapers, would not constitute public forums, the Internet as a whole might be viewed as a public forum, despite its lack of a historic tradition. The Supreme Court has not explicitly held that the Internet as a whole is a public forum, but, in Reno v. ACLU, which struck down a prohibition in the Communications Decency Act of 1996 on “indecent” material on the Internet, the Court noted that the Internet “constitutes a vast platform from which to address and hear from a worldwide audience of millions of readers, viewers, researchers, and buyers. Any person or organization with a computer connected to the Internet can ‘publish’ information.”1492


Commonwealth v. Davis, 162 Mass. 510, 511 (1895). “For the Legislature absolutely or conditionally to forbid public speaking in a highway or public park is no more an infringement of rights of a member of the public than for the owner of a private house to forbid it in the house.” back
Davis v. Massachusetts, 167 U.S. 43, 48 (1897). back
307 U.S. 496 (1939). Only Justice Black joined the Roberts opinion, but only Justices McReynolds and Butler dissented from the result. back
E.g., Schneider v. Town of Irvington, 308 U.S. 147, 163 (1939); Kunz v. New York, 340 U.S. 290, 293 (1951). back
Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536, 555 (1965). For analysis of this case in the broader context, see Kalven, The Concept of the Public Forum: Cox v. Louisiana, 1965 SUP. CT. REV. 1. back
Adderley v. Florida, 385 U.S. 39 (1966). See id. at 47–48; Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 559, 578 (1965) (Justice Black concurring in part and dissenting in part); Jamison v. Texas, 318 U.S. 413, 416 (1943) (Justice Black for the Court). back
E.g., Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, 394 U.S. 147, 152 (1969); Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 115 (1972); Carey v. Brown, 447 U.S. 455, 460 (1980). back
Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496 (1939); Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U.S. 268 (1951); Kunz v. New York, 340 U.S. 290 (1951); Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, 394 U.S. 147 (1969); Coates v. City of Cincinnati, 402 U.S. 611 (1971); Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104 (1972); Greer v. Spock, 424 U.S. 828, 835–36 (1976); Carey v. Brown, 447 U.S. 455 (1980). back
Narrowly drawn statutes that serve the state’s interests in security and in preventing obstruction of justice and influencing of judicial officers are constitutional. Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 559 (1965). A restriction on carrying signs or placards on the grounds of the Supreme Court is unconstitutional as applied to the public sidewalks surrounding the Court, since it does not sufficiently further the governmental purposes of protecting the building and grounds, maintaining proper order, or insulating the judicial decisionmaking process from lobbying. United States v. Grace, 461 U.S. 171 (1983). back
In Boos v. Barry, 485 U.S. 312 (1988), the Court struck down as content-based a District of Columbia law prohibiting the display of any sign within 500 feet of a foreign embassy if the sign tends to bring the foreign government into “public odium” or “public disrepute.” However, another aspect of the District’s law, making it unlawful for three or more persons to congregate within 500 feet of an embassy and refuse to obey a police dispersal order, was upheld; under a narrowing construction, the law had been held applicable only to congregations directed at an embassy, and reasonably believed to present a threat to the peace or security of the embassy. back
Brown v. Louisiana, 383 U.S. 131 (1966) (sit-in in library reading room). back
Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229 (1963); Jeanette Rankin Brigade v. Capitol Police Chief, 342 F. Supp. 575 (D.C. 1972) (three-judge court), aff’d, 409 U.S. 972 (1972) (voiding statute prohibiting parades and demonstrations on United States Capitol grounds). back
E.g., Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104 (1972) (sustaining ordinance prohibiting noisemaking adjacent to school if that noise disturbs or threatens to disturb the operation of the school); Brown v. Louisiana, 383 U.S. 131 (1966) (silent vigil in public library protected while noisy and disruptive demonstration would not be); Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969) (wearing of black armbands as protest protected but not if it results in disruption of school); Cameron v. Johnson, 390 U.S. 611 (1968) (preservation of access to courthouse); Frisby v. Schultz, 487 U.S. 474 (1988) (ordinance prohibiting picketing “before or about” any residence or dwelling, narrowly construed as prohibiting only picketing that targets a particular residence, upheld as furthering significant governmental interest in protecting the privacy of the home). back
United States Postal Serv. v. Council of Greenburgh Civic Assn’s, 453 U.S. 114 (1981). back
Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 116 (1972). back
E.g., Adderley v. Florida, 385 U.S. 39 (1966) (jails); Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights, 418 U.S. 298 (1974) (advertising space in city rapid transit cars); Greer v. Spock, 424 U.S. 828 (1976) (military bases); United States Postal Service v. Council of Greenburgh Civic Ass’ns, 453 U.S. 114 (1981) (private mail boxes); Perry Educ. Ass’n v. Perry Local Educators’ Ass’n, 460 U.S. 37 (1983) (interschool mail system); ISKCON v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672 (1992) (publicly owned airport terminal). back
E.g., Southeastern Promotions, Ltd. v. Conrad, 420 U.S. 546 (1975) (municipal theater); Madison School District v. WERC, 429 U.S. 167 (1976) (school board meeting); Heffron v. ISKCON, 452 U.S. 640 (1981) (state fair grounds); Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263 (1981) (university meeting facilities). back
Compare United States Postal Service v. Council of Greenburgh Civic Ass’ns, 454 U.S. 114, 128–31 (1981), with id. at 136–40 (Justice Brennan concurring), and 142 (Justice Marshall dissenting). For evidence of continuing division, compare ISKCON v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672 (1992) with id. at 693 (Justice Kennedy concurring). back
See, e.g., Heffron v. ISKCON, 452 U.S. 640, 647–50 (1981), and id. at 656 (Justice Brennan concurring in part and dissenting in part) (stating law and discussing cases); Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, 468 U.S. 288 (1984) (prohibition of sleep-in demonstration in area of park not designated for overnight camping). back
Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U.S. 268 (1951); Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536 (1965); Police Dep’t of Chicago v. Mosle, 408 U.S. 92 (1972); Madison School District v. WERC, 429 U.S. 167 (1976); Carey v. Brown, 447 U.S. 455 (1980); Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263 (1981). In Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights, 418 U.S. 298 (1974), a divided Court permitted the city to sell commercial advertising space on the walls of its rapid transit cars but to refuse to sell political advertising space. back
E.g., the governmental interest in safety and convenience of persons using public forum, Heffron v. ISKCON, 452 U.S. 640, 650 (1981); the interest in preservation of a learning atmosphere in school, Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 115 (1972); and the interest in protecting traffic and pedestrian safety in the streets, Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536, 554–55 (1965); Kunz v. New York, 340 U.S. 290, 293–94 (1951); Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496, 515–16 (1939). back
Heffron v. ISKCON, 452 U.S. 640, 654–55 (1981); Consolidated Edison Co. v. PSC, 447 U.S. 530, 535 (1980). back
Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 798–99, 800 (1989). back
Thomas v. Chicago Park Dist., 534 U.S. 316, 323 (2002). back
534 U.S. at 322, citing Freedman v. Maryland, 380 U.S. 51 (1965). See National Socialist Party v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977). back
Freedman v. Maryland, 380 U.S. 51, 58–59 (1965). back
Police Dep’t of Chicago v. Mosle, 408 U.S. 92 (1972) (ordinance void that barred all picketing around school building except labor picketing); Carey v. Brown, 447 U.S. 455 (1980) (same); Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263 (1981) (striking down college rule permitting access to all student organizations except religious groups); Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U.S. 268 (1951) (striking down denial of permission to use parks for some groups but not for others); R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377 (1992) (striking down ordinance that prohibited symbols, such as burning crosses, that constituted fighting words that insult on the basis of some factors, such as race, but not on the basis of other factors). These principles apply only to the traditional public forum and to the governmentally created “limited public forum.” Government may, without creating a limited public forum, place “reasonable” restrictions on access to nonpublic areas. See, e.g., Perry Educ. Ass’n v. Perry Local Educators’ Ass’n, 460 U.S. 37, 48 (1983) (use of school mail system); and Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 473 U.S. 788 (1985) (charitable solicitation of federal employees at workplace). See also Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights, 418 U.S. 298 (1974) (city may sell commercial advertising space on the walls of its rapid transit cars but refuse to sell political advertising space); Capitol Square Review Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U.S. 753 (1995) (denial of permission to Ku Klux Klan, allegedly in order to avoid Establishment Clause violation, to place a cross in plaza on grounds of state capitol); Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819 (1995) (University’s subsidy for printing costs of student publications, available for student “news, information, opinion, entertainment, or academic communications,” could not be withheld because of the religious content of a student publication); Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches School Dist., 508 U.S. 384 (1993) (school district rule prohibiting after-hours use of school property for showing of a film presenting a religious perspective on child-rearing and family values, but allowing after-hours use for non-religious social, civic, and recreational purposes). back
E.g., Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496, 516 (1939); Schneider v. Town of Irvington, 308 U.S. 147, 164 (1939); Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569 (1941); Poulos v. New Hampshire, 345 U.S. 395 (1953); Staub v. City of Baxley, 355 U.S. 313, 321–25 (1958); Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536, 555–58 (1965); Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, 394 U.S. 147, 150–53 (1969). Justice Stewart for the Court described these and other cases as “holding that a law subjecting the exercise of First Amendment freedoms to the prior restraint of a license without narrow, objective, and definite standards to guide the licensing authority is unconstitutional.” Id. at 150–51. A person faced with an unconstitutional licensing law may ignore it, engage in the desired conduct, and challenge the constitutionality of the permit system upon a subsequent prosecution for violating it. Id. at 151; Jones v. Opelika, 316 U.S. 584, 602 (1942) (Chief Justice Stone dissenting), adopted per curiam on rehearing, 319 U.S. 103 (1943). See also City of Lakewood v. Plain Dealer Publishing Co., 486 U.S. 750 (1988) (upholding facial challenge to ordinance vesting in the mayor unbridled discretion to grant or deny annual permit for location of newsracks on public property); Riley v. National Fed’n of the Blind, 487 U.S. 781 (1988) (invalidating as permitting “delay without limit” licensing requirement for professional fundraisers); Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, 505 U.S. 123 (1992). But see Walker v. City of Birmingham, 388 U.S. 307 (1967) (same rule not applicable to injunctions). back
In Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, 394 U.S. 147 (1969), the Court reaffirmed the holdings of the earlier cases, and, additionally, both Justice Stewart, for the Court, id. at 155 n.4, and Justice Harlan concurring, id. at 162–64, asserted that the principles of Freedman v. Maryland, 380 U.S. 51 (1965), governing systems of prior censorship of motion pictures, were relevant to permit systems for parades and demonstrations. The Court also voided an injunction against a protest meeting that was issued ex parte, without notice to the protestors and with, of course, no opportunity for them to rebut the representations of the seekers of the injunction. Carroll v. President and Comm’rs of Princess Anne, 393 U.S. 175 (1968). back
The only precedent is Kunz v. New York, 340 U.S. 290 (1951). The holding was on a much narrower basis, but in dictum the Court said: “The court below has mistakenly derived support for its conclusions from the evidence produced at the trial that appellant’s religious meetings had, in the past, caused some disorder. There are appropriate public remedies to protect the peace and order of the community if appellant’s speeches should result in disorder and violence.” Id. at 294. A different rule applies to labor picketing. See Milk Wagon Drivers Local 753 v. Meadowmoor Dairies, 312 U.S. 287 (1941) (background of violence supports prohibition of all peaceful picketing). The military may ban a civilian, previously convicted of destroying government property, from reentering a military base, and may apply the ban to prohibit the civilian from reentering the base for purposes of peaceful demonstration during an Armed Forces Day “open house.” United States v. Albertini, 472 U.S. 675 (1985). back
Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, 505 U.S. 123 (1992) (a fee based on anticipated crowd response necessarily involves examination of the content of the speech, and is invalid as a content regulation). back
Dicta indicate that a hostile reaction will not justify suppression of speech, Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496, 502 (1939); Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536, 551 (1965); Bachellar v. Maryland, 397 U.S. 564, 567 (1970), and one holding appears to point this way. Gregory v. City of Chicago, 394 U.S. 111 (1969). Yet the Court upheld a breach of the peace conviction of a speaker who refused to cease speaking upon the demand of police who feared imminent violence. Feiner v. New York, 340 U.S. 315 (1951). In Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U.S. 268, 273 (1951) (concurring opinion), Justice Frankfurter wrote: “It is not a constitutional principle that, in acting to preserve order, the police must proceed against the crowd whatever its size and temper and not against the speaker.” back
“[A]lthough a park is a traditional public forum for speeches and other transitory expressive acts, the display of a permanent monument in a public park is not a form of expression to which forum analysis applies. Instead, the placement of a permanent monument in a public park is best viewed as a form of government speech and is therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause.” Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum, 555 U.S. at 464.. back
Perry Educ. Ass’n v. Perry Local Educators’ Ass’n, 460 U.S. 37, 45, 46 n.7 (1983). back
460 U.S. at 46. back
460 U.S. at 46. Candidate debates on public television are an example of this third category of public property: the “nonpublic forum.” Arkansas Educational Television Comm’n v. Forbes, 523 U.S. 666, 679 (1998). “Although public broadcasting as a general matter does not lend itself to scrutiny under the forum doctrine [i.e., public broadcasters ordinarily are entitled to the editorial discretion to engage in viewpoint discrimination], candidate debates present the narrow exception to this rule.” Id. at 675. A public broadcaster, therefore, may not engage in viewpoint discrimination in granting or denying access to candidates. Under the third type of forum analysis, however, it may restrict candidate access for “a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral” reason, such as a candidate’s “objective lack of support.” Id. at 683. back
Perry Educ. Ass’n v. Perry Local Educators’ Ass’n, 460 U.S. 37 (1983). This was a 5–4 decision, with Justice White’s opinion of the Court being joined by Chief Justice Burger and by Justices Blackmun, Rehnquist, and O’Connor, and with Justice Brennan’s dissent being joined by Justices Marshall, Powell, and Stevens. See also Hazelwood School Dist. v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988) (student newspaper published as part of journalism class is not a public forum). back
City Council v. Taxpayers for Vincent, 466 U.S. 789 (1984) (upholding an outright ban on use of utility poles for signs). The Court noted that “it is of limited utility in the context of this case to focus on whether the tangible property itself should be deemed a public forum.” Id. at 815 n.32. back
Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 473 U.S. 788 (1985). The precedential value of Cornelius may be subject to question, because it was decided by 4–3 vote, the non-participating Justices (Marshall and Powell) having dissented in Perry. Justice O’Connor wrote the opinion of the Court, joined by Chief Justice Burger and by Justices White and Rehnquist. Justice Blackmun, joined by Justice Brennan, dissented, and Justice Stevens dissented separately. back
473 U.S. at 802. Justice Blackmun criticized “the Court’s circular reasoning that the CFC is not a limited public forum because the Government intended to limit the forum to a particular class of speakers.” Id. at 813–14. back
Justice Kennedy criticized this approach in ISKCON v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672, 695 (1992) (concurring), contending that recognition of government’s authority to designate the forum status of property ignores the nature of the First Amendment as “a limitation on government, not a grant of power.” Justice Brennan voiced similar misgivings in his dissent in United States v. Kokinda: “public forum categories— originally conceived of as a way of preserving First Amendment rights—have been used . . . as a means of upholding restrictions on speech.” 497 U.S. at 741 (citation omitted). back
497 U.S. 720, 727 (1990) (“[R]egulation of speech activity where the Government has not dedicated its property to First Amendment activity is examined only for reasonableness.”). back
505 U.S. 672 (1992). back
Id. at 683 (“[N]either by tradition nor purpose can the terminals be described as satisfying the standards we have previously set out for identifying a public forum.”). back
539 U.S. 194, 205–06 (2003) (“We have ‘rejected the view that traditional public forum status extends beyond its historic confines.’ The doctrines surrounding traditional public forums may not be extended to situations where such history is lacking.” (quoting Ark. Educ. TV Comm’n v. Forbes, 523 U.S. 666, 679 (1998))). While decided on constitutional vagueness grounds, in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, the Court struck down a provision of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that prohibited the use of an “interactive computer service” (i.e., the Internet) to display indecent material “in a manner available to a person under 18 years of age.” 521 U.S. 844, 860 (1997). The Court did not consider the Internet’s status as a forum for free speech, but observed that the Internet “constitutes a vast platform from which to address and hear from a world-wide audience of millions of readers, viewers, researchers, and buyers. Any person or organization with a computer connected to the Internet can ‘publish’ information.” Id. at 853. back
American Library Association, 539 U.S. at 199; see also id. at 206 (“A public library does not acquire Internet terminals in order to create a public forum for Web publishers to express themselves, any more than it collects books in order to provide a public forum for the authors of books to speak.”). back
Packingham v. North Carolina582 U.S. ___, No. 15–1194, slip op. at 4–5 (2017) (quoting Am. Civil Liberties Union, 521 at 868); see also id. at ___, slip op. at 6 (“This case is one of the first this Court has taken to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet. As a result, the Court must exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to vast networks in that medium.”). back
Id. at ___, slip op. at 6, 8; see id. at 7 (“[G]iven the broad wording of the North Carolina statute at issue, it might well bar access not only to commonplace social media websites but also to websites as varied as,, and”). The Court was careful to point out, however, that its opinion should not be read as barring states from enacting laws more specific than that of North Carolina, noting that “[s]pecific criminal acts are not protected speech even if speech is the means for their commission.” Id. (citing Brandenburg v. Ohio 395 U. S. 444, 447–49 (1969)). Indeed, “it can be assumed that the First Amendment permits a State to enact specific, narrowly tailored laws that prohibit a sex offender from engaging in conduct that often presages a sexual crime, like contacting a minor or using a website to gather information about a minor.” Id. back
521 U.S. at 853. A federal court of appeals wrote: “Aspects of cyberspace may, in fact, fit into the public forum category, although the Supreme Court has also suggested that the category is limited by tradition. Compare Forbes, 523 U.S. at 679 (‘reject[ing] the view that traditional public forum status extends beyond its historic confines’ [to a public television station]) with Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844, 851–53 (1997) (recognizing the communicative potential of the Internet, specifically the World Wide Web).” Putnam Pit, Inc. v. City of Cookeville, 221 F.3d 834, 843 (6th Cir. 2000) (alternate citations to Forbes and Reno omitted). In Putnam Pit, the city denied a private Web site’s request that the city’s Web site establish a hyperlink to it, even though the city’s Web site had established hyperlinks to other private Web sites. The court of appeals found that the city’s Web site was a nonpublic forum, but that even nonpublic forums must be viewpoint neutral, so it remanded the case for trial on the question of whether the city’s denial of a hyperlink had discriminated on the basis of viewpoint. back