Cornelius v. NAACP Leg. Def. Fund
473 U.S. 788 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cornelius v. NAACP Leg. Def. Fund, 473 U.S. 788 (1985)

Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

No. 84-312

Argued February 19, 1985

Decided July 2, 1985

473 U.S. 788

Syllabus

By Executive Order, participation in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), a charity drive aimed at federal employees, is limited to voluntary, tax-exempt, nonprofit charitable agencies that provide direct health and welfare services to individuals or their families, and legal defense and political advocacy organizations are specifically excluded. Participating organizations confine their fundraising activities to a 30-word statement submitted for inclusion in the CFC literature disseminated to federal employees. Undesignated contributions are distributed on a local level to certain participating organizations, and designated funds are paid directly to the specified recipient. Respondent legal defense and political advocacy organizations brought an action in Federal District Court challenging their exclusion under the Executive Order on the grounds, inter alia, that the denial of the right to seek designated funds violated their First Amendment right to solicit charitable contributions. The District Court granted summary judgment in respondents' favor and enjoined the denial of their pending or future applications to participate in the solicitation of designated contributions. The Court of Appeals affirmed on the ground that the Government restrictions in question were not reasonable.

Held:

1. Solicitation in the context of the CFC is speech protected by the First Amendment. The brief statements in the CFC literature directly advance the speaker's interest in informing readers about its existence and goals. Moreover, an employee's contribution in response to a request for funds functions as a general expression of support for the recipient and its views. Although the CFC does not entail direct discourse between the solicitor and the donor, the CFC literature facilitates the dissemination of views and ideas by directing employees to the soliciting agency to obtain more extensive information. And without the funds obtained from solicitation in various fora, the soliciting organization's continuing ability to communicate ideas and goals may be jeopardized. Pp. 473 U. S. 797-799.

2. The CFC, rather than the federal workplace, is the relevant forum. Although, as an initial matter, a speaker must seek access to public property or to private property devoted to public use to evoke First Amendment

Page 473 U. S. 789

concerns, forum analysis is not completed merely by identifying the Government property at issue. Rather, in defining the forum, the focus should be on the access sought by the speaker. Here, respondents seek access to a particular means of communication, the CFC. And the CFC is a nonpublic forum. This conclusion is supported both by the Government's policy in creating the CFC to minimize the disturbance of federal employees while on duty formerly resulting from unlimited ad hoc solicitation activities and by the Government's practice of limiting access to the CFC to those organizations considered appropriate. Pp. 473 U. S. 799-806.

3. The Government's reasons for excluding respondents from the CFC appear, at least facially, to satisfy the reasonableness standard. The Government's decision to restrict access to a nonpublic forum need only be reasonable, and the reasonableness must be assessed in the light of the purpose of the forum and all surrounding circumstances. Here, the President could reasonably conclude that a dollar directly spent on providing food and shelter to the needy is more beneficial than a dollar spent on litigation that might or might not result in aid to the needy. Moreover, avoiding the appearance of political favoritism is a valid justification for limiting speech in a nonpublic forum. Respondents' tax-exempt status does not determine the reasonableness of the Government's excluding them from the CFC. And the record supports an inference that respondents' participation in the CFC would be detrimental to the CFC and disruptive of the federal workplace. The First Amendment does not forbid a viewpoint-neutral exclusion of speakers who would disrupt a nonpublic forum and hinder its effectiveness for its intended purpose. Pp. 473 U. S. 806-811.

4. Where the issue whether the Government impermissibly excluded respondents from the CFC because it disagreed with their viewpoints was neither decided below nor fully briefed before this Court, the issue will not be decided by this Court in the first instance, but respondents are free to pursue the issue on remand. Pp. 473 U. S. 811-813.

234 U.S.App.D.C. 148, 727 F.2d 1247, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE and REHNQUIST JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 473 U. S. 813. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 473 U. S. 833. MARSHALL, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. POWELL, J., took no part in the decision of the case.

Page 473 U. S. 790

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