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Law School Case Brief

Pursley v. Fayetteville - 820 F.2d 951 (8th Cir. 1987)

Rule:

A time, place and manner restriction on expressive activity in a public forum may be sustained only if the restriction: (1) is content-neutral; (2) serves a significant governmental interest; (3) is narrowly tailored to serve that interest, and; (4) leaves open ample alternative channels of communication.

Facts:

Defendant City of Fayetteville enacted an ordinance banning all pickets and demonstrations in front of residences and dwelling places after plaintiffs Dr. Dow Pursley and others ("Picketers") began picketing on the public sidewalk in front of the house of a doctor who performed abortions as part of his medical practice. The Picketers filed an action in federal district court alleging that the ordinance violated the First Amendment. The district court upheld the constitutionality of the statute, except to the extent that it imposed imprisonment for violations of the ordinance. On appeal, the Picketers argued that the ordinance abridged their First Amendment right of free speech, that the ordinance was not sufficiently narrowly tailored to its purposes, and that the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Issue:

Was the ordinance in question unconstitutional for being vague and overbroad?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The appellate court held that the ordinance was void because it was overbroad. The court found that sidewalks were public forums for purposes of the First Amendment. The court determined that although the ordinance was content neutral and fulfilled a significant governmental interest in protecting the domestic tranquility of City residents, it was not narrowly tailored to serve the City's legitimate interest. The court noted that because some residences were located in busy commercial areas, the ordinance would have had a negligible effect on the serenity of the neighborhood while significantly impinging upon the First Amendment.

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