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Allegations of a subjective "chill" upon the exercise of First Amendment rights are not an adequate substitute for a claim of specific present objective harm or a threat of specific future harm; the federal courts established pursuant to U.S. Const. art. III do not render advisory opinions.
After being called to assist local authorities in controlling civil disorders, the Army instituted an intelligence system for surveillance of civilian political activity to secure information relating to potential or actual civil disturbances, the principal sources of such information being the news media and publications in general circulation. The plaintiffs instituted a class action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, claiming that the mere existence and operation of the Army's surveillance system imposed a chilling effect on the exercise of First Amendment rights of the plaintiffs, who alleged no specific action of the Army against them, but based their claims of chilling effect on the contention that the surveillance system was not appropriate to the proper role of the Army, which might misuse the information in the future, causing direct harm to the plaintiffs. The District Court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that there was no justiciable claim for relief, but the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, finding that the civilians presented a justiciable controversy in complaining of a chilling effect on the exercise of their First Amendment rights by the existence and operation of the Army's intelligence gathering and distributing system. Certiorari was granted.
Did the plaintiff civilians present a justiciable controversy in complaining of a chilling effect on the exercise of their First Amendment rights by the existence and operation of the Army's intelligence gathering and distributing system?
The Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals, finding that a justiciable controversy was not presented, and the plaintiffs had failed to establish the requisite standing to sue, since only a subjective "chill," based on the mere existence of the Army's intelligence system, was alleged, rather than specific present objective harm or threat of a specific future harm.