On June 25, 1998, the U.S. Postal Service implemented a regulation that banned petitioning on all post office sidewalks. Virtually at the same time, President Bill Clinton appointed Richard W. Roberts to be a U.S. District Court Judge, on July 31, 1998. Roberts had previously been Chief of the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division.
The Initiative & Referendum Institute filed a lawsuit against the postal regulation on June 1, 2000. The case was assigned to Judge Roberts. He held oral arguments on July 26, 2000, and ruled on August 1 that the case could only be decided after a trial to weigh disputed facts. That trial was held October 8-17, 2002. On December 31, 2003, Judge Roberts upheld the regulation.
The Initiative & Referendum Institute appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, heard the case on February 8, 2005. The 3 judges were very interested in the case, as evidenced by their vigorous questioning of the attorneys on both sides. On August 9, 2005, they handed down their decision. It said that clearly, postal sidewalks that are parallel to streets are public fora and the regulation was invalid, as to those sidewalks. It sent the case back to the U.S. District Court to re-evaluate the decision about interior sidewalks.
Judge Roberts then said more evidence was needed. In August 2007, both sides to the lawsuit sent a questionaire to thousands of postmasters (chosen randomly) to determine exactly how much First Amendment activity occurs on post office interior sidewalks. Results of the questionaire were received; both sides then prepared new briefs, each arguing that the new evidence supported that side’s position. But, after all this evidence-gathering, there is still no decision.
Judge Roberts was also very slow in another of his cases, Unity08 v Federal Election Commission, over whether Unity08 could raise more than $5,000 from individuals. The Unity08 case was filed on January 10, 2007, and Judge Roberts didn’t rule on that case until October 16, 2008, even though there were no disputed facts. He ruled against Unity08, and that case is now in the U.S. Court of Appeals.