Thomas v. Chicago Park Dist.
534 U.S. 316

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 2001

Syllabus

THOMAS ET AL. v. CHICAGO PARK DISTRICT

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

No. 00-1249. Argued December 3, 200l-Decided January 15,2002

Respondent Chicago Park District adopted an ordinance requiring individuals to obtain a permit before conducting large-scale events in public parks. The ordinance provides that the Park District may deny a permit on any of 13 specified grounds, must process applications within 28 days, and must explain its reasons for a denial. An unsuccessful applicant may appeal, first, to the Park District's general superintendent and then to state court. Petitioners, dissatisfied that the Park District has denied some, though not all, of their applications for permits to hold rallies advocating the legalization of marijuana, filed a 42 U. S. C. § 1983 suit, alleging, inter alia, that the ordinance is unconstitutional on its face. The District Court granted the Park District summary judgment, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

Held:

1. A content-neutral permit scheme regulating uses (including speech uses) of a public forum need not contain the procedural safeguards described in Freedman v. Maryland, 380 U. S. 51. Freedman is inapposite because, unlike the motion picture censorship scheme in that case, the Park District's ordinance is not subject-matter censorship but content-neutral time, place, and manner regulation of the use of a public forum. None of the grounds for denying a permit has anything to do with the content of speech. Indeed, the ordinance is not directed at communicative activity as such, but to all activity in a public park. And its object is not to exclude particular communication, but to coordinate multiple uses oflimited space; assure preservation of park facilities; prevent dangerous, unlawful, or impermissible uses; and assure financial accountability for damage caused by an event. pp. 320-323.

2. A content-neutral time, place, and manner regulation can be applied in such a manner as to stifle free expression. It thus must contain adequate standards to guide an official's decision and render that decision subject to effective judicial review. See Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U. S. 268, 271. The Park District's ordinance meets this test. That the ordinance describes grounds on which the Park District "may" deny a permit does not mean that it allows the Park District to waive requirements for some favored speakers. Such a waiver would be unconstitutional, but this abuse must be dealt with if and when a pattern


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of unlawful favoritism appears, rather than by insisting upon a rigid, no-waiver application of the permit requirements. Pp. 323-325.

3. Because the Park District's ordinance is not subject to Freedman's procedural requirements, this Court does not reach the question whether the requirement of prompt judicial review means a prompt judicial determination or the prompt commencement of judicial proceedings. pp. 325-326.

227 F.3d 921, affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Richard L. Wilson argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Wayne B. Giampietro and Michael

David A. Strauss argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was Steven A. Weiss.

James A. Feldman argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Olson, Acting Assistant Attorney General Schiffer, Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler, Stephanie R. Marcus, William G. Myers III, and Randolph J. Myers. *

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a municipal park ordinance requiring individuals to obtain a permit before conducting large-scale events must, consistent with the First Amendment, contain the procedural safeguards described in Freedman v. Maryland, 380 U. S. 51 (1965).

*Bonnie I. Robin-Vergeer and Alan B. Morrison filed a brief for Public Citizen, Inc., as amicus curiae urging reversal.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the City of New York by Michael D. Hess, Corporation Counsel, Leonard J. Koerner, and Elizabeth I. Freedman; for the International City-County Management Association et al. by Richard Ruda and Charles A. Rothfeld; for the International Municipal Lawyers Association by Henry W Underhill, Jr.; and for Morality in Media, Inc., et al. by Robin S. Whitehead and Bruce A. Taylor.


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Full Text of Opinion

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