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Law School Case Brief

Lee v. Int'l Soc'y for Krishna Consciousness - 505 U.S. 830, 112 S. Ct. 2709 (1992)


A public authority's regulation prohibiting repetitive distribution of literature within airport terminals operated by the authority violates the free speech guarantee of the Federal Constitution's First Amendment.


The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operated airport terminals that were generally accessible to the public and that contained various commercial establishments such as restaurants, snack stands, bars, newsstands, and stores of various types. The Port Authority adopted a regulation forbidding, among other things, the repetitive sale or distribution of flyers, brochures, pamphlets, books, or any other printed or written material within such terminals. However, such activities were permitted by the Port Authority in the sidewalk areas outside the terminals. A religious corporation, whose members wished to perform within the terminals a ritual involving the public distribution of religious literature, brought suit against the Port Authority's police superintendent in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and sought declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 on the ground that the regulation allegedly deprived the corporation of rights guaranteed under the Federal Constitution's First Amendment. The District Court, granting the corporation summary judgment, held that (1) under the "traditional public forum" doctrine, the terminals were akin to public streets, (2) thus, the Port Authority's regulation could be sustained only if the regulation was narrowly tailored to support a compelling state interest, and (3) the blanket prohibition on distribution of literature had not been shown to constitute such narrow tailoring. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, affirming in pertinent part on appeal, (1) declined to hold that the terminals were public forums for purposes of the First Amendment's free speech guarantee, but (2) held that the Port Authority was required to provide reasonable access to the terminals for the distribution of literature.


Was the ban on distribution of literature valid under the First Amendment's free speech guarantee?




The United States Supreme Court held that the ban on distribution of literature was invalid under the First Amendment's free speech guarantee. This is in accordance with the ruling in International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc. v Lee, 112 S. Ct. 2701120 L. Ed. 2d 5411992 U.S. LEXIS 4532 (1992) where the Court held that (1) a publicly owned airport is not a public forum; (2) the proper standard of review was whether the regulation was reasonably related to maintaining the multipurpose environment that the Port Authority had deliberately created; and (3) under such a standard, the regulation was not reasonable, since there was no explanation offered as to how peaceful pamphleteering alone or in conjunction with solicitation of funds--was incompatible with that environment.

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