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Law School Case Brief

Bd. of Airport Comm'rs v. Jews for Jesus - 482 U.S. 569, 107 S. Ct. 2568 (1987)


In balancing the government's interest in limiting the use of its property against the interests of those who wish to use the property for expressive activity, the U.S. Supreme Court has identified three types of fora: the traditional public forum, the public forum created by government designation, and the nonpublic forum. The proper First Amendment analysis differs depending on whether the area in question falls in one category rather than another. In a traditional public forum or a public forum by government designation, First Amendment protections are subject to heightened scrutiny: In these quintessential public forums, the government may not prohibit all communicative activity. For the State to enforce a content-based exclusion it must show that its regulation is necessary to serve a compelling state interest and that it is narrowly drawn to achieve that end. The State may also enforce regulations of the time, place, and manner of expression which are content-neutral, are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample alternative channels of communication.


The Board of Airport Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles adopted a resolution declaring that the central terminal area at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was not open for "First Amendment activities" by any individual or entity. Pursuant to the resolution, a Department of Airports peace officer stopped a minister, who was affiliated with a nonprofit religious corporation, from distributing free religious literature in the central terminal area. The officer explained to the minister that his activities were in violation of the resolution and requested him to leave the terminal, warning that the city would take legal action against him if he refused to leave. The minister complied with the request. The minister and the religious corporation filed an action in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, challenging the constitutionality of the resolution under both the California and Federal Constitutions, and seeking a declaration of their rights to distribute religious literature in the central terminal area. The District Court, granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs, held that the central terminal area at LAX was a traditional public forum and that the resolution was facially unconstitutional under the Federal Constitution. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The United States Supreme Courtgranted the Board's petition for certiorari review.


Was the airport commission's resolution declaring that the central terminal area at LAX was not open for "First Amendment activities" unconstitutional?




The U.S. Supreme Court held that the resolution was substantially overbroad as it expressly applied to all First Amendment activities and the words of the resolution left no room for a narrowing construction. The resolution, on its face, reached the universe of expressive activity and purported to create a virtual "First Amendment Free Zone" at the airport. The Court stated that it was obvious that such a ban could not be justified even if the airport were a nonpublic forum because no conceivable governmental interest would justify such an absolute prohibition of speech.

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