Thomas v. Chicago Park Dist.

Decision Date15 January 2002
Docket Number001249
Citation534 U.S. 316,122 S.Ct. 775,151 L.Ed.2d 783
PartiesCAREN CRONK THOMAS and WINDY CITY HEMP DEVELOPMENT BOARD, PETITIONERS v. CHICAGO PARK DISTRICTUnited States Supreme Court
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

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 Districts 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 Districts 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 of limited space; assure preservation of park facilities; prevent dangerous, unlawful, or impermissible uses; and assure financial accountability for damage caused by an event. Pp.47.

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 officials decision and render that decision subject to effective judicial review. See Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U.S. 268, 271. The Park Districts 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 of unlawful favoritism appears, rather than by insisting upon a rigid, no-waiver application of the permit requirements. Pp. 79.

3.Because the Park Districts ordinance is not subject to Freedmans 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. 910. 227 F.3d 921, affirmed.

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

On writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit

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).

I

Respondent, the Chicago Park District (Park District), is responsible for operating public parks and other public property in Chicago. See Ill. Comp. Stat., ch. 70, 1505/7.01 (2001). Pursuant to its authority to establish by ordinance all needful rules and regulations for the government and protection of parks and other property under its jurisdiction, 1505/7.02, the Park District adopted an ordinance that requires a person to obtain a permit in order to conduct a public assembly, parade, picnic, or other event involving more than fifty individuals, or engage in an activity such as creat[ing] or emit[ting] any Amplified Sound. Chicago Park Dist. Code, ch. VII, C.3.a(1), C.3.a(6). The ordinance provides that [a]pplications for permits shall be processed in order of receipt, C.5.a, and the Park District must decide whether to grant or deny an application within 14 days unless, by written notice to the applicant, it extends the period an additional 14 days, C.5.c. Applications can be denied on any of 13 specified grounds. C.5.e.1 If the Park District denies an application, it must clearly set forth in writing the grounds for denial and, where feasible, must propose measures to cure defects in the application. C.5.d, C.5.e. When the basis for denial is prior receipt of a competing application for the same time and place, the Park District must suggest alternative times or places. C.5.e. An unsuccessful applicant has seven days to file a written appeal to the General Superintendent of the Park District, who must act on the appeal within seven days. C.6.a. If the General Superintendent affirms a permit denial, the applicant may seek judicial review in state court by common-law certiorari. See Norton v. Nicholson, 187 Ill. App. 3d 1046, 1057-1058, 543 N.E. 2d 1053, 1059 (1989).

Petitioners have applied to the Park District on several occasions for permits to hold rallies advocating the legalization of marijuana. The Park District has granted some permits and denied others. Not satisfied, petitioners filed an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleging, inter alia, that the Park Districts ordinance is unconstitutional on its face. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the Park District, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed. 227 F.3d 921 (2000). We granted certiorari. 532 U.S. 1051 (2001).

II

The First Amendments guarantee of the freedom of speech, or of the press prohibits a wide assortment of government restraints upon expression, but the core abuse against which it was directed was the scheme of licensing laws implemented by the monarch and Parliament to contain the evils of the printing press in 16th- and 17-century England. The Printing Act of 1662 had prescribed what could be printed, who could print, and who could sell. Mayton, Toward a Theory of First Amendment Process: Injunctions of Speech, Subsequent Punishment, and the Costs of the Prior Restraint Doctrine, 67 Cornell L.Rev. 245, 248 (1982). It punished the publication of any book or pamphlet without a license and required that all works be submitted for approval to a government official, who wielded broad authority to suppress works that he found to be heretical, seditious, schismatical, or offensive. F. Siebert, Freedom of the Press in England, 14761776, p.240 (1952). The English licensing system expired at the end of the 17th century, but the memory of its abuses was still vivid enough in colonial times that Blackstone warned against the restrictive power of such a licenseran administrative official who enjoyed unconfined authority to pass judgment on the content of speech. 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 152 (1769).

In Freedman v. Maryland, 380 U.S. 51 (1965), we confronted a state law that enacted a strikingly similar system of prior restraint for motion pictures. It required that every motion picture film be submitted to a Board of Censors before the film was shown anywhere in the State. The Board enjoyed authority to reject films that it considered obscene or that tend[ed], in the judgment of the Board, to debase or corrupt morals or incite to crimes, characteristics defined by the statute in broad terms. Id., at 52, n.2. The statute punished the exhibition of a film not submitted to the Board for advance approval, even where the film would have received a license had it been properly submitted. It was no defense that the content of the film was protected by the First Amendment.

We recognized in Freedman that a scheme conditioning expression on a licensing bodys prior approval of content presents peculiar dangers to constitutionally protected speech. Id., at 57. [T]he censors business is to censor, ibid., and a licensing body likely will overestimate the dangers of controversial speech when determining, without regard to the films actual effect on an audience, whether speech is likely to incite or to corrupt [the] morals, id., at 52, n.2. Cf. Southeastern Promotions, Ltd. v. Conrad, 420 U.S. 546, 561, and n.11 (1975). In response to these grave dangers of a censorship system, Freedman, supra, at 58, we held that a film licensing process must contain certain procedural safeguards in order to avoid constituting an invalid prior restraint: (1) any restraint prior to judicial review can be imposed only for a specified brief period during which the status quo must be maintained; (2) expeditious judicial review of that decision must be available; and (3) the censor must bear the burden of going to court to suppress the speech and must bear the burden of proof once in court. FW/PBS, Inc. v. Dallas, 493 U.S. 215, 227 (1990) (principal opinion of OConnor, J., joined by Stevens, and Kennedy, JJ.) (citing Freedman, supra, at 5860).

Petitioners contend that the Park District, like the Board of Censors in Freedman, must initiate litigation every time it denies a permit and that the ordinance must specify a deadline for judicial review of a challenge to a permit denial. We reject those contentions. Freedman is inapposite because the licensing scheme at issue here is not subject-matter censorship but content-neutral time, place, and manner regulation of the use of a public forum. The Park Districts ordinance does not authorize a licensor to pass judgment on the content of speech: None of the grounds for denying a permit has anything to do with what a speaker might say. Indeed, the...

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