U.S. District Court Upholds Post Office Ban on Petitioning on Interior Postal Sidewalks

On September 8, U.S. District Court Judge Richard W. Roberts upheld a post office regulation that bans petitioning on postal sidewalks if the sidewalks are not parallel to, or not seemingly part of, sidewalks that run along streets.  The decision thus upholds the ban on sidewalks that run from the street to the post office.  Here is the 30-page decision.

This case was filed in 2000, and Judge Roberts had upheld the ban on all postal sidewalks in 2003.  But in 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals had said that sidewalks parallel to streets cannot be closed to petitioning, and had sent the case back for more proceedings on interior sidewalks.  Judge Roberts had then suggested that both sides cooperate to do research into the extent to which First Amendment activity is carried out on interior postal sidewalks.  That research tended to show that there is just as much such activity on interior postal sidewalks as on postal sidewalks that are parallel to the street.  But, in the 2010 opinion that just came out, the decision downplays that research, finding that it is statistically flawed.

One reads the decision, looking for a good reason for the postal regulation, and one doesn’t find such a reason.  The Institute and Referendum Institute, and the other plaintiffs, will now appeal again.  The case is Initiative & Referendum Institute v U.S. Postal Service, 00-1246.


Comments

U.S. District Court Upholds Post Office Ban on Petitioning on Interior Postal Sidewalks — 36 Comments

  1. This is an outrageously disgusting decision. The US Post Office’s ban on petitioning is a huge impediment to ballot access and is a blatant violation of the 1st amendment. The judge who made this ruling ought to be removed from office.

  2. The Postal Service is exactly that, a service. As a service business, the Postal Service seeks to provide its customers unfettered access to its facilities and services. The First Amendment has no place in this matter as the issue is simply the right of a business to control access it’s place of business. For the record, Walmart and other retail facilities apply the similar standard to most of their locations for good reason. They do not want their operations to become political forums or flea markets.

  3. It’s not a business, it’s a government monopoly. And walmart and other major retailers are intertwined enough with the government that free speech easement should apply to them too (and already does in some states.

    It’s particularly galling in the case of alternative parties and independent candidates, when governments require ridiculous numbers of signatures to get on the ballot yet try to block the gathering of signatures on the (stolen) property of the government and government-partnered corporations.

    If I’m allowed to ask someone what time it is, why wouldn’t I be allowed to ask them for a signature?

  4. The Post Office is not a government monopoly but it does serve the general public. As such it should not operate like a business and the rule of not allowing petitions in its property the right one to mae or it will become a political forum or a flea market and it could bring demonstrations and altercations and irritated customers to its door. The policy of moving these people to a “public sidewalk” the right one; the PO owns the bldg, the PO should keep these sideshows off its property.

  5. “Jim Says:
    September 11th, 2010 at 4:57 am
    The Postal Service is exactly that, a service. As a service business, the Postal Service seeks to provide its customers unfettered access to its facilities and services.”

    The Post Office is a GOVERNMENT MONOPOLY SERVICE.

    “The First Amendment has no place in this matter as the issue is simply the right of a business to control access it’s place of business.”

    I don’t give up my rights when I’m at the Post Office. My rights are unalienable, or at least they are supposed to be.

    “For the record, Walmart and other retail facilities apply the similar standard to most of their locations for good reason. They do not want their operations to become political forums or flea markets.”

    Wal-Mart is a corporate welfare whore, as are all of the other big corporate stores. Free speech should apply there as well.

  6. “connie Says:
    September 11th, 2010 at 6:43 am
    The Post Office is not a government monopoly but it does serve the general public.”

    The Post Office is clearly a government monopoly. They have a monopoly on 1st class mail. Anyone who tries to compete with them on this basis will be shut down by force. They also recieve tax payer funding.

  7. Who appoints the postmaster general? Can I buy shares? Is it family owned? Who owns it?

    And even if it was “private” its doors are open to the public, which means it’s open for people to talk to each other.

    It’s a bad joke to require tens or hundreds of thousands of signatures and then say we can’t go anywhere which has any appreciable number of people, and we get messed with anywhere and everywhere we go.

  8. Free speech is not a flea market, it’s not a vending activity, it’s no different than asking someone for directions or the time of day.

    If we have requirements for candidates and parties to get on the ballot…if we allow initiatives, referenda and recalls of corrupt and crooked politicians, we have to be able to talk to a LOT of people. Not some empty sidewalk with no business or anything else there, although we get messed with on those as well.

  9. The post office is part of the federal government. The employees are paid on checks drawn on the U.S. Treasury. The employees must obey the Hatch Act, which means they can’t run for partisan office (except in a tiny handful of communities in which a substantial part of the population is composed of federal employees). The Hatch Act only applies to government employees, and would be obviously unconstitutional as applied to people who aren’t government employees.

  10. Ladies and Gentleman the Postal Service is a government owned business.

    It’s revenue supports it operation, it has a CEO and board of directors and it not funded in any manner by the feredal budget.

    In fact they are a cash cow and thats why they show a constant loss as congress hits them for 5 Billion each year.

  11. Post office property is federal government property. If that weren’t true, the decision in 2005 of the US Court of Appeals, saying post office sidewalks parallel to streets must permit petitioning, could not have happened.

  12. Paulie.. What is your home address. I am going to stand in your yard and ask for signatures. Public sidewalks are just that… public. Private property is just… private. Buildings funded by tax dollars are publi. Buildings funded privately are private. The USPS is NOT FUNDED BY TAX DOLLARS. Not one shred or tax dollars is used to fund the Post Office. What are you people thiniing. If that the case then anyone can stand in YOUR yard at YOUR house.

  13. We conclude that, under applicable Supreme Court precedent, the ingress and egress walkways to the post office buildings are a nonpublic forum.7 These walkways are intended to accommodate traffic to and from the post office for the conduct of postal business and have not traditionally been sites for expressive conduct.8 These walkways are distinguishable from the public sidewalks surrounding the buildings, which remain open for expressive conduct…We hold that the federal regulation prohibiting solicitation of contributions on postal property does not violate the first amendment

  14. Brian, it is irrelevant where the USPS gets its income. It is government-owned. Many government agencies get revenue from sources other than taxes.

  15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Postal_Service

    See the fortress ugly USPS HQ in D.C.

    See U.S. Code, Title 39 – Postal Service

    See the zillion public forum cases in the Supremes — part of the 1st Amdt. — lots of so-called public areas AIN’T so public for 1st Amdt actions.

    i.e. how many PRIVATE buildings (especially churchs, etc.) are rented for PUBLIC election day voting ???

    Any connecting sidewalks to them at right angles to local streets — also via PRIVATE parking lots ???

  16. “Brian Says:
    September 11th, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Paulie.. What is your home address. I am going to stand in your yard and ask for signatures. Public sidewalks are just that… public.”

    You could knock on somebody’s door and if they anwser you could ask them to sign a petition. They may or may not anwser and if they do anwser they may or may not sign. It would not be very productive to hang out in their yard to try to gather more signatures though, since individuals homes are not open to the public (unlike say the Post Office). It is completely irrational to compare an individual’s home to the US Post Office.

  17. the Post Office recieves ZERO funding by the Government. If you look at the last decade you will find that the Federal Government has been using the Post Office as a cash cow demanding by law billion of dollars in payments to the fed. Even when proven that payments were excessive Congress put the money into escrow not allowing the Post Office access to it to avoid rate increases and the like. Like the Social Security escrow Congress has spent it.

    The Post Office is only a partial monopoly, that is for first class mail and has exclusive access to your mailbox. Other than that, Parcels, Express Mail, Priority mail, Newspaper delivery, etc all have competition.

    There are people protesting Obama in a vile way nearby Post Offices. Would you rather have them right next to the door? Or a short distance away so you the customer can avoid them if you wish?

  18. The Post Office does not reveive tax dollars. Its sidewalks are their property not Public.

    That’s besides the point, as Richard pointed out. If it were private, why do employees receive government paychecks? Why is the postmaster general appointed by the government? Why is there a civil service application process? Who owns it…you have not answered my question.

    It is owned by the government, that makes it public property, plain and simple.

  19. The Post Office does not reveive tax dollars. Its sidewalks are their property not Public.

    If it is “their” property, who are the owners? Can I buy shares? Write a letter to the proprietors?

    Your argument is so pathetic, you should be ashamed to make it.

  20. Ladies and Gentleman the Postal Service is a government owned business.

    That you Jimbo. It is government owned. And the government is owned by the people, which is what public property means.

  21. Paulie.. What is your home address. I am going to stand in your yard and ask for signatures.

    I don’t have a home address, I stay on the road full time working on petitions and live in motels. If I did have a home address, that would be a lot different than government owned property such as the post office, and also different from property which is open to the general public such as retail shopping centers, which courts in many states have correctly ruled are the functional equivalent of a public town square.

    That being said, if I ever do have a home (highly unlikely), you are welcome to come over and try to get signatures.

    Public sidewalks are just that… public. Private property is just… private. Buildings funded by tax dollars are publi. Buildings funded privately are private.

    Buildings owned by the government are public. Buildings open to the public are public for the purpose of talking to the public.

  22. We conclude that, under applicable Supreme Court precedent, the ingress and egress walkways to the post office buildings are a nonpublic forum.7 These walkways are intended to accommodate traffic to and from the post office for the conduct of postal business and have not traditionally been sites for expressive conduct.8 These walkways are distinguishable from the public sidewalks surrounding the buildings, which remain open for expressive conduct…We hold that the federal regulation prohibiting solicitation of contributions on postal property does not violate the first amendment

    Hopefully to be overruled on appeal.

  23. Brian, it is irrelevant where the USPS gets its income. It is government-owned. Many government agencies get revenue from sources other than taxes.

    Exactly.

  24. You could knock on somebody’s door and if they anwser you could ask them to sign a petition. They may or may not anwser and if they do anwser they may or may not sign. It would not be very productive to hang out in their yard to try to gather more signatures though, since individuals homes are not open to the public (unlike say the Post Office). It is completely irrational to compare an individual’s home to the US Post Office.

    Obviously the person we are talking to is incapable or unwilling to understand such obvious facts.

  25. The Post Office is only a partial monopoly, that is for first class mail and has exclusive access to your mailbox. Other than that, Parcels, Express Mail, Priority mail, Newspaper delivery, etc all have competition.

    Partial monopolies are still monopolies.

    There are people protesting Obama in a vile way nearby Post Offices. Would you rather have them right next to the door? Or a short distance away so you the customer can avoid them if you wish?

    Right next to the door, of course.

  26. Lots of govt monopolies — total or partial —

    courts, police, etc.

    Does one have the *absolute* *right* to do petitioning in court hallways or court rooms (in or not in session) — in police building hallways or entrance rooms ??? Duh.

    Or – even doing petitioning inside the SCOTUS building while the SCOTUS party hacks are having hearings / oral arguments — even in ballot access cases or gerrymander cases ???

  27. Outside the buildings without obstructing the entryways, yes.

    If petitioning can be carried out in the vestibule or halls inside without the sound being disruptive and without obstructing unrelated people from freely passing by, it should be allowed as well.

  28. “Pulga Says:
    September 12th, 2010 at 4:32 am
    the Post Office recieves ZERO funding by the Government. If you look at the last decade you will find that the Federal Government has been using the Post Office as a cash cow demanding by law billion of dollars in payments to the fed. Even when proven that payments were excessive Congress put the money into escrow not allowing the Post Office access to it to avoid rate increases and the like. Like the Social Security escrow Congress has spent it.”

    The Post Office HAS RECIEVED TAX PAYER FUNDING IN THE PAST. Also, it IS MOST DEFINETELY A GOVERNMENT AGENCY.

  29. “Obviously the person we are talking to is incapable or unwilling to understand such obvious facts.”

    I wouldn’t be suprised if the person in question is a SHILL who works for the Post Office.

  30. A couple more things that should be pointed out:

    1) The Post Office is listed in the government section of the phone book.

    2) Post Office vehicles have government license plates.

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