The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech means that the government, with very few exceptions, cannot restrict speech because of its content. The Supreme Court, however, has frequently held that reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on speech are permissible. As the term suggests, such restrictions regulate when, where, and how speech occurs to minimize interference with important state interests. Such restrictions are valid if they are content neutral, serve a significant government interest, are narrowly tailored, and leave open adequate alternatives for expression.
The Court’s time, place, and manner analysis is most commonly associated with the ‘‘public forum’’ doctrine, where the Court has often stressed that even within traditional public forums the state can impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on speech. For example, in Ward v. Rock against Racism (491 U.S. 781, 1989), the Court held that New York City could require use of city-provided sound systems and technicians for concerts in Central Park to protect nearby residential privacy. Other time, place, and manner restrictions upheld by the Court have included restrictions on picketing on sidewalks adjacent to schools, restrictions on distributing literature or soliciting funds at a state fair, creation of a buffer zone around an abortion clinic, and restrictions on placing campaign signs on public utility poles.
The Court’s use of the time, place, and manner test is an appropriate balance between the rights of free speech and important state interests. By requiring that ample means of expression are available, the test permits restrictions that impose relatively minor burdens on speech while invalidating restrictions that are overly suppressive. Most importantly, the test requires that restrictions be content neutral, thus guarding against restrictions designed to distort debate or punish unfavorable views.
MARK W. CORDES
References and Further Reading
Cases and Statutes Cited