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Law School Case Brief

Thomas v. Chi. Park Dist. - 534 U.S. 316, 122 S. Ct. 775 (2002)

Rule:

Of course even content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions can be applied in such a manner as to stifle free expression. Where the licensing official enjoys unduly broad discretion in determining whether to grant or deny a permit, there is a risk that he will favor or disfavor speech based on its content. The Supreme Court of the United States thus requires that a time, place, and manner regulation contain adequate standards to guide the official's decision and render it subject to effective judicial review.

Facts:

Respondent Chicago Park District ("District") adopted an ordinance requiring individuals to obtain a permit before conducting large-scale events in public parks. The ordinance provided that the District: (1) could deny a permit on any of 13 specified grounds; (2) was required to process applications within 28 days, and; (3) was required to explain its reasons for a denial. An unsuccessful applicant could appeal, first, to the District's general superintendent and then to state court. Petitioners Caren Cronk Thomas and Windy City Hemp Development Board were denied some, but not all, of their applications for permits to hold rallies advocating the legalization of marijuana. Thereafter, petitioners filed a lawsuit against the District in federal district court alleging that the District violated 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983. Petitioners argued that the District's ordinance was unconstitutional on its face. The district court granted the District's motion for summary judgment; the court of appeals affirmed. Petitioners were granted a writ of certiorari.

Issue:

Was the ordinance requiring individuals to obtain a permit before conducting large-scale events in public parks unconstitutional?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the appellate court's judgment. The Court held that the licensing scheme was not subject-matter censorship but rather a content-neutral time, place, and manner regulation of the use of a public forum. As such, and contrary to petitioners' contentions, the District was not required by the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment to initiate litigation every time it denied a permit, and the ordinance was not required by the free speech guarantee to specify a deadline for judicial review of a challenge to a permit denial.

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