Limited Public Forums

2012-07-24 13:38:53

A limited public forum is a kind of designated public forum. A designated public forum is an area voluntarily opened by the government as a place for expressive activity. It requires Affirmative Action by the government, in contrast to the ‘‘traditional’’ public forum that acquires its character from its historical use. The government may also designate a forum for specific types of communications or available for specific groups; these are limited public forums. Although the Court applies the same strict scrutiny to infringements on speech in these forums, the major distinction of a limited public forum is government can limit the subject matter, or content, of speech in these forums while it cannot usually in a traditional public forum.

The Supreme Court first delineated the three types of forums: traditional public, designated public and nonpublic in Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators Association, 460 U.S. 37 (1983). Although it has allowed government to limit subject matter in limited public forums, the Court has struck down attempts to permit only particular viewpoints (Rosenberger v. Rector, 515 U.S. 819 [1995] [student activity fees could not be limited to groups promoting a belief about a deity]).

The doctrine has led to disagreements almost since its inception (see Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, 473 U.S. 788 (1985) (majority found federal workers charity fund drive that limited participants a nonpublic forum; dissent criticized ‘‘circular’’ reasoning and found it a limited public forum). Courts still wrestle with whether the government’s intent to allow limited expressive activity or the compatibility of the forum with particular speech activities should determine a limited public forum.


References and Further Reading

  • Shiffrin and Choper. The First Amendment: Cases, Commentaries and Questions. 3rd Ed. West Group, 2001.
  • Kovic, et al. The American Constitutional Order: History, Cases and Philosophy. 2nd Ed. West Group, pp. 974–973.