United States v. Grace
Annotate this Case
461 U.S. 171 (1983)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Grace, 461 U.S. 171 (1983)
United States v. Grace
Argued January 18, 1983
Decided April 20, 1983
461 U.S. 171
Title 40 U.S.C. § 13k prohibits the "display [of] any flag, banner, or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice any party, organization, or movement" in the United States Supreme Court building or on its grounds, which are defined to include the public sidewalks constituting the outer boundaries of the grounds. One appellee was threatened with arrest by Court police officers for violation of the statute when he distributed leaflets concerning various causes on the sidewalk in front of the Court. The other appellee was similarly threatened with arrest for displaying on the sidewalk a picket sign containing the text of the First Amendment. Appellees then filed suit in Federal District Court, seeking an injunction against enforcement of § 13k and a declaratory judgment that it was unconstitutional on its face. The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The Court of Appeals, after determining that such dismissal was erroneous, struck down § 13k on its face as an unconstitutional restriction on First Amendment rights in a public place.
Held: Section 13k, as applied to the public sidewalks surrounding the Court building, is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Pp. 461 U. S. 175-184.
(a) The conduct of each appellee falls into the statutory ban, and hence it is proper to reach the constitutional question involved. Pp. 461 U. S. 175-176.
(b) As a general matter, peaceful picketing and leafletting are expressive activities involving "speech" protected by the First Amendment. "Public places," such as streets, sidewalks, and parks, historically associated with the free exercise of expressive activities, are considered, without more, to be "public forums." In such places, the Government may enforce reasonable time, place, and manner regulations, but additional restrictions, such as an absolute prohibition of a particular type of expression, will be upheld only if narrowly drawn to accomplish a compelling governmental interest. Pp. 461 U. S. 176-178.
(c) The Court grounds are not transformed into "public forum" property merely because the public is permitted to freely enter and leave the grounds at practically all times and is admitted to the building during specified hours. But where the sidewalks forming the perimeter of the grounds are indistinguishable from any other sidewalks in Washington,
D.C., they should not be treated any differently, and thus are public forums for First Amendment purposes. Pp. 461 U. S. 178-180.
(d) Insofar as it totally bans specified communicative activity on the public sidewalks around the Court grounds, § 13k cannot be justified as a reasonable place restriction. A total ban on carrying a flag, banner, or device on the public sidewalks does not substantially serve the purposes of the statute of which § 13k is a part -- to provide for the maintenance of law and order on the Court grounds. Nor do § 13k's prohibitions here at issue sufficiently serve the averred purpose of protecting the Court from outside influence or preventing it from appearing to the public that the Court is subject to such influence or that picketing or marching is an acceptable way of influencing the Court, where, as noted, the public sidewalks surrounding the Court grounds are no different than other public sidewalks in the city. Pp. 461 U. S. 180-183.
214 U.S.App.D.C. 375, 665 F.2d 1193, affirmed in part and vacated in part.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., post, p. 461 U. S. 184, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 461 U. S. 188, filed opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part.