Airport Comm'rs v. Jews for Jesus
482 U.S. 569 (1987)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Airport Comm'rs v. Jews for Jesus, 482 U.S. 569 (1987)

Board of Airport Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles

v. Jews for Jesus, Inc.

No. 86-104

Argued March 3, 1987

Decided June 15, 1987

482 U.S. 569


Petitioner Board of Airport Commissioners of Los Angeles adopted a resolution banning all "First Amendment activities" within the "Central Terminal Area" at Los Angeles International Airport. Respondents, a nonprofit religious corporation and a minister for that organization, filed an action in Federal District Court challenging the resolution's constitutionality, after the minister had stopped distributing free religious literature in the airport's Central Terminal Area when warned against doing so by an airport officer. The court held that the Central Terminal Area was a traditional public forum under federal law, and that the resolution was facially unconstitutional under the Federal Constitution. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The resolution violates the First Amendment. It is facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment overbreadth doctrine regardless of whether the forum involved is a public or nonpublic forum (which need not be decided here). The resolution's facial overbreadth is substantial, since it prohibits all protected expression and does not merely regulate expressive activity that might create problems such as congestion or the disruption of airport users' activities. Under such a sweeping ban, virtually every individual who enters the airport may be found to violate the resolution by engaging in some "First Amendment activit[y]." The ban would be unconstitutional even if the airport were a nonpublic forum, because no conceivable governmental interest would justify such an absolute prohibition of speech. Moreover, the resolution's words leave no room for a narrowing, saving construction by state courts. Cf. Baggett v. Bullitt, 377 U. S. 360. The suggestion that the resolution is not substantially overbroad because it is intended to reach only expressive activity unrelated to airport-related purposes is unpersuasive. Much nondisruptive speech may not be airport related, but is still protected speech even in a nonpublic forum. Moreover, the vagueness of the suggested construction -- which would result in giving airport officials the power to decide in the first instance whether a given activity is airport-related -- presents serious constitutional difficulty. Pp. 482 U. S. 572-577.

785 F.2d 791, affirmed.

Page 482 U. S. 570

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., joined, post, p. 482 U. S. 577.

Primary Holding
A government agency cannot enact a regulation that categorically bans all First Amendment activities.
Snyder, a minister for the Gospel for Jews for Jesus, attempted to circulate free religious literature in the Central Terminal Area at the Los Angeles International Airport. He was stopped by an airport officer for violating a resolution by the Board of Airport Commissioners of Los Angeles that all First Amendment activities would be banned from the Central Terminal Area. Snyder complied with the officer's request to leave the terminal but then brought a claim against the Board in conjunction with Jews for Jesus, a non-profit organization. They argued that it violated the First Amendment and succeeded in the lower courts.



  • Sandra Day O'Connor (Author)
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • John Paul Stevens
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • Antonin Scalia

This regulation is overly broad and thus a facial violation of the First Amendment, even if the airport terminal is not a fully public forum. There are many forms of protected expression covered by the resolution, including talking, reading, or wearing expressive clothing. While some First Amendment activities might cause congestion in the terminal or disrupt its use by travelers, the resolution is so sweeping that virtually everyone in the airport might be charged with violating it. No absolute ban on speech can be found to be constitutional, no matter the government interest that allegedly supports it. There is also no way for state courts to interpret the resolution in a narrower way that might comply with the First Amendment.

Speech or expressive activity may be protected in a non-public forum even if it is not related to the function of the forum. Airport officials should not have the discretion to decide whether a certain form of speech or activity is related to the airport's function.


  • Byron Raymond White (Author)
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

Case Commentary

Sometimes a restriction on speech can remain valid in part if there is a legitimate way to interpret it that does not infringe on First Amendment rights. The Court might certify the issue to a state court in those circumstances to provide a more definite interpretation. There was no possibility in this case, however, that there could be a logical interpretation of the statute that would limit it to make it valid in any situation.

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