USPS v. Council of Greenburgh Civic Assns.,
Annotate this Case
453 U.S. 114 (1981)
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U.S. Supreme Court
USPS v. Council of Greenburgh Civic Assns., 453 U.S. 114 (1981)
United States Postal Service v. Council of
Greenburgh Civic Associations
Argued April 21, 1981
Decided June 25, 1981
453 U.S. 114
Title 18 U.S.C. § 1725 prohibits the deposit of unstamped "mailable matter" in a letterbox approved by the United States Postal Service, and violations are subject to a fine. The local Postmaster notified appellee civic association that its practice of delivering messages to residents by placing unstamped notices in the letterboxes of private homes violated § 1725, and advised it that, if it and other members of appellee council of civic associations continued such practice, it could result in a fine. Appellees then brought suit in Federal District Court against the Postal Service for declaratory and injunctive relief, contending that the enforcement of § 1725 would inhibit their communications with local residents and would thereby deny them the freedom of speech and press secured by the First Amendment. The District Court ultimately declared § 1725 unconstitutional as applied to appellees and the council's member associations and enjoined the Postal Service from enforcing it as to them.
Held: Section 1725 does not unconstitutionally abridge appellees' First Amendment rights, inasmuch as neither the enactment nor the enforcement of § 1725 is geared in any way to the content of the message sought to be placed in the letterbox. Pp. 453 U. S. 120-134.
(a) When a letterbox is designated an "authorized depository" of the mail by the Postal Service, it becomes an essential part of the nationwide system for the delivery and receipt of mail. In effect, the postal customer, although he pays for the physical components of the "authorized depository," agrees to abide by the Postal Service's regulations in exchange for the Postal Service agreeing to deliver and pick up his mail. A letterbox, once designated an "authorized depository," does not at the same time transform itself into a "public forum" of some limited nature to which the First Amendment guarantees access to all comers. Just because it may be somewhat more efficient for appellees to place their messages in letterboxes does not mean that there is a First Amendment right to do so. The First Amendment does not guarantee access to property simply because it is owned or controlled by the Government. Pp. 453 U. S. 126-131.
(b) Congress, in exercising its constitutional authority to develop and operate a national postal system, may properly legislate with the generality of cases in mind, and should not be put to the test of defending in one township after another the constitutionality of a statute under the traditional "time, place, and manner" analysis. If Congress and the Postal Service are to operate as efficiently as possible an extensive system for the delivery of mail, they must adopt regulations of a general character having uniform applicability throughout the Nation. In this case, Congress was legislating to promote what it considered to be the efficiency of the Postal Service, and was not laying down a generalized prohibition against the distribution of leaflets or the discussion of issues in traditional public forums. Pp. 453 U. S. 133-133.
(c) While Congress may not, by its own ipse dixit, destroy the "public forum" status of streets and parks, a letterbox may not properly be analogized to streets and parks. Pp. 453 U. S. 133-134.
490 F.Supp. 157, reversed.
REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., post, p. 453 U. S. 134, and WHITE, J., post, p. 453 U. S. 141, filed opinions concurring in the judgment. MARSHALL, J., post, p. 453 U. S. 142, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 453 U. S. 152, filed dissenting opinions.