United States v. Kokinda

497 U.S. 720 (1990)

Quick Summary

Marsha Kokinda and Kevin Pearl (defendants) were convicted for soliciting on postal property, challenging their conviction as a First Amendment violation. The United States Postal Service (plaintiff) defended its regulation against solicitation.

The dispute centered on whether the postal sidewalk was a public forum subject to strict scrutiny. The Supreme Court concluded that it was not a public forum and that the regulation was reasonable and therefore valid.

Facts of the Case

The United States Postal Service (plaintiff) implemented a regulation prohibiting solicitation on postal property. Marsha Kokinda and Kevin Pearl (defendants), volunteers for the National Democratic Policy Committee, set up a table on a sidewalk near the entrance of a Maryland Post Office to solicit contributions, sell materials, and distribute political literature.

The sidewalk was part of postal property and provided the only path for customers from the parking lot to the post office building.

After receiving complaints from post office patrons, the postmaster requested Kokinda and Pearl to leave, which they refused. Consequently, they were arrested and convicted for violating the Postal Service regulation. Challenging their convictions, Kokinda and Pearl argued that the regulation infringed upon their First Amendment rights.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. Kokinda and Pearl were arrested and convicted for violating a Postal Service regulation against solicitation on postal premises.
  2. They appealed their convictions, claiming a First Amendment violation, but the District Court affirmed their convictions.
  3. The Court of Appeals reversed the decision, stating that the postal sidewalk was a traditional public forum and that the government’s regulation failed strict scrutiny.
  4. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the conflict with other appellate decisions.

I.R.A.C. Format

Issue

Whether a United States Postal Service regulation prohibiting solicitation on postal premises violates the First Amendment.

Rule of Law

Government property does not automatically become open to the public for expressive activities. The level of scrutiny applied to regulation of speech on government property depends on whether the property is a traditional public forum, a designated public forum, or a nonpublic forum.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court focused on whether the postal sidewalk was a public forum by examining its physical characteristics and purpose. The Court found that the sidewalk’s use was limited to postal patrons moving between the parking lot and post office building, distinguishing it from traditional public sidewalks open to expressive activity.

Consequently, it was not deemed a traditional public forum. The Court applied a reasonableness test rather than strict scrutiny because the sidewalk was not a public forum.

It found that prohibiting solicitation was reasonable in light of the Postal Service’s function and mission to provide efficient mail services without disruption. The Court also considered the Postal Service’s historical regulation of solicitation and its need to manage its properties effectively.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court held that the Postal Service regulation prohibiting solicitation on postal premises did not violate the First Amendment and was a valid exercise of government control over its property.

Key Takeaways

  1. The physical characteristics and purpose of government property determine its classification as a public forum.
  2. Nonpublic government property is subject to regulation that only needs to be reasonable and viewpoint neutral.
  3. Solicitation can be prohibited on nonpublic government property if it disrupts its intended function.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What factors determine whether government property is considered a public forum?

Factors include the property’s historical use, physical characteristics, location, and whether its main purpose is expressive activity.

  • For example: Parks and streets have traditionally been held as public forums due to their history as places for public discourse and assembly.

How do restrictions on speech differ between public and nonpublic forums?

In a public forum, restrictions on speech must pass strict scrutiny, meaning they must serve a compelling government interest and be narrowly tailored. In nonpublic forums, regulations only need to be reasonable and viewpoint neutral. A university classroom being a nonpublic forum can require silence during a lecture for the reason of maintaining an environment conducive to learning.

Can the government ever prohibit speech in traditional public forums such as parks or sidewalks?

Yes, but such restrictions are subject to strict scrutiny. They must be necessary to serve a compelling government interest and be the least restrictive means of achieving that interest.

  • For example: The government might prohibit loud speeches at night in residential areas to prevent disturbance, as this aligns with the compelling interest of preserving tranquility.

References

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