Postal Service Files Brief with U.S. Supreme Court in Postal Petitioning Case

On March 15, the U.S. Postal Service filed this brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Initiative & Referendum Institute v U.S. Postal Service, explaining why the U.S. Supreme Court should not hear the case. The issue whether it is constitutional to ban individuals from signing a petition on interior postal sidewalks. The Postal Service permits circulators to stand on postal sidewalks and ask people to sign, but if the individual wants to sign, the individual and the circulator must then leave postal sidewalks.

The Postal Service argument is almost entirely on the point that there is no split in the various circuits on whether post office interior sidewalks are public fora or not. The brief would have been more interesting if it talked about the issue itself. An average person would conclude that the post office’s policy does not make sense, and there is little in this brief to rebut that, except the argument that the sidewalk would be congested if signing occurred on the sidewalk.


Comments

Postal Service Files Brief with U.S. Supreme Court in Postal Petitioning Case — No Comments

  1. This case has been in court for what, 13 years now. It’s amazing how badly the Post Office wants to be able to continue violating the 1st amendment.

  2. “The Postal Service permits circulators to stand on postal sidewalks and ask people to sign, but if the individual wants to sign, the individual and the circulator must then leave postal sidewalks.”

    This regulation renders most Post Offices uselss for petition signature gathering.

  3. Here’s a newsflash, Post offices exist to mail packages and letters. They are not designed as an outlet for determining public opinion on any subject. But pollsters like the post office for the same reasons as protestors and panhandlers, because there are people coming and going dong their errands. And these people are mostly not interested in being bothered. How do I know? Because if the people wanting their time set up on the public sidewalk in a plainly designated area, few if any customers walk down and participate in the activity. So the solicitors feel compelled to intercept people to pitch their product. Most continue walking if allowed. How do I know? Fourteen years of uniformed security inside a lobby back when business was growing not shrinking. Tax day was an extravaganza, with local media and radio stations. Talking about your first amendment rights, can you simply enter the football stadium in Dallas and canvass people at the concession stands? Are the questions less important there? Is the first amendment not allowed there? Why worry people at USPS? because their quasi-government and they owe you whatever you want because you pay taxes! But USPS gets NO Tax monies what so ever, but you’re still entitled right? Now a days with mail declining and offices being closed and taxes & bills paid online, the USPS is an industry in flux. The entire lawsuit may become a moot issue before long. Will you still feel entitled when it is privatized to poll wherever you desire? Why not go bother FedEx or UPS customers?

  4. #3, you sound like Jersey City, New Jersey Mayor Frank Hague, who was famous in the 30’s for enforcing a city ordinance that city sidewalks and parks could not be used for rallies, picket signers, and leafletting. The city said parks were for recreation, not politics. The city said sidewalks were for transportation, not politics. But the US Supreme Court felt otherwise, and ruled in CIO v Hague that the city was violating the First Amendment.

    The evidence in the postal case shows that exterior areas around post offices have been a setting for general social communication since the 18th century. There is a ton of evidence in this case about post office history.

  5. You can’t pitch petitions or sell products/services at other businesses and you shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with the Postal Service’s business either. Go find another place to play 🙂 THANK YOU!

  6. #5, the evidence in the case is that there are other safeguards (via other postal regulations) that prevent petitioners from interfering with postal business. Those other safeguards are not being challenged. No one wants to interfere with postal business.

  7. Robocop, If you don’t like the law, you should talk to your state legislature. THEY created the law requiring folks to waste their & others time seeking merely to take part in American politics.

    Fact is, USPS is one of the very few places where public can be asked to sign a petition that is REQUIRED by your legislature.

    If you don’t like the fact that people are collecting onerous & legally required petition signatures in order to take part in US politics, then seek to change the law so that they are not required to do so.

    Unless you’re merely opposed to any opposition or debate.

    PEACE

  8. Petitioners or street vendors should not be allowed to set up shop outside the entry doors of any business and harass the customers entering or exiting.

  9. #8, petitioners are already allowed to be on post office interior sidewalks. While standing on those sidewalks, they are already allowed to ask people to sign the petition.

  10. “Rick Says:
    March 16th, 2013 at 7:44 am
    You can’t pitch petitions or sell products/services at other businesses and you shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with the Postal Service’s business either. Go find another place to play 🙂 THANK YOU!”

    A person collecting signatures on petitions is NOT selling a good or a service, they are engaging in a 1st amendment activity. Our rights are supposed to be unalienable. The rights to free speech and to petition the govenrment for a redress of grievances, both of which are enumerated in the 1st amendment, are NOT supposed to be infringed upon.

    Futhermore, there are state mandated ballot access petitions to place candidates on the ballot, plus, there are a lot of jurisdictions that have a citizens initiative, referendum, and recall process, and people can not use the process of using petitions to place candidates or issues on the ballot if they can not get access to locations where the public goes in order to ask members of the public to sign the petitions. Any infringement placed upon petition circulators being able to have access to the public to ask them to sign petitions means that the general public can be deprived of choices on the ballot, and this leads to a dictatorship.

  11. “Richard Winger Says:
    March 16th, 2013 at 3:29 pm
    #8, petitioners are already allowed to be on post office interior sidewalks. While standing on those sidewalks, they are already allowed to ask people to sign the petition.”

    Yes, and as I said above, this regulation renders most Post Offices useless for petitioning, because it is generally not practical to get people to walk off of the Post Office grounds to sign the petition. Things that can hinder this are distance, weather, people being in a hurry, people who are elderly or disabled, etc…

  12. “Steven R Linnabary Says:
    March 16th, 2013 at 8:10 am
    Robocop, If you don’t like the law, you should talk to your state legislature. THEY created the law requiring folks to waste their & others time seeking merely to take part in American politics.

    Fact is, USPS is one of the very few places where public can be asked to sign a petition that is REQUIRED by your legislature.

    If you don’t like the fact that people are collecting onerous & legally required petition signatures in order to take part in US politics, then seek to change the law so that they are not required to do so.”

    Even if ballot access petitions for parties/candidates were eliminated, there’d still be petitions for initiatives, referendums, and recalls, and also for plebiscite petitions to influence public policy (as in non-binding petitions to urge elected officials to take certain actions). Also, going out in public just to talk to the public and hand out infomation is a 1st amendment activity as well, so there’d still be a need for free speech at Post Offices even if there were no ballot access petitions for parties and candidates.

  13. Postal Service interior sidewalks are not public fora. Collecting funds or signatures on interior sidewalks are prohibited (a neutral policy). These activities impede the flow of traffic to and from the Post Office, thus interfering with business.

  14. “But USPS gets NO Tax monies what so ever,”

    The USPS is also a government monopoly.

  15. Rick, we agree that petitioning might impede the flow of traffic. But it is required that SOME people engage in this activity.

    USPS is a public place and USPS policy is NOT neutral as it only applies to those in opposition to your democrat and republican parties and their policies.

    If you don’t like the law, then you should write your state legislator and seek to have the law changed to NOT require onerous petition signatures. We would all be in agreement.

    Unless your opposition is really that some people oppose your repulsive politics.

    PEACE

  16. “Rick Says:
    March 16th, 2013 at 2:28 pm
    Petitioners or street vendors should not be allowed to set up shop outside the entry doors of any business and harass the customers entering or exiting.”

    A petitioner and a street vendor are not the same thing. Getting signatures on petitions is a 1st amendment activity. Anyone who can’t grasp this concept ought to move to North Korea.

  17. “Rick Says:
    March 16th, 2013 at 4:27 pm
    Postal Service interior sidewalks are not public fora. Collecting funds or signatures on interior sidewalks are prohibited (a neutral policy). These activities impede the flow of traffic to and from the Post Office, thus interfering with business.”

    Oh this is complete BS. The general public comes and goes at the Post Office, therefore it IS in the public domain.

    I, and others that I know, have petitioned in front of Post Offices on numerous occassions and none of us have ever blocked the door. This is a ridiculous argument put forth by authoritarians (such as this Rick character) to shut down free speech and limit access to the ballot to the establishment choices. Rick would probably be happy to live in a dictaorship so long as he was given a cushy job at the Post Office.

  18. “Talking about your first amendment rights, can you simply enter the football stadium in Dallas and canvass people at the concession stands? Are the questions less important there? Is the first amendment not allowed there?”

    Sporting events are generally not good places for petition signature gathering? Why? Because people in attendance are so wrapped up in the game that it is hard to get them to focus on anything else.

    Having said this, yes, I think that sports staduims & arenas should be fair game for petition signature gathering as well. The public is invited to the games, and even though they have to buy a ticket, these stadiums and arenas all receive tax payer funding, so they ought to be fair game for petition signature gathering (even though they generally are not good for this due to the reason I mentioned above).

  19. All sports stadiums and arenas are paid for by taxpayers today, so yes, petitioners MUST be allowed to seek signatures at these public places.

    If somebody does not like it, they should write their state legislators to change the law that only democrats and republicans be allowed on the ballot.

    PEACE

  20. “No one wants to interfere with postal business.”

    The funny thing here is that the Post Office is not even a legitimate business. It’s a government monopoly.

  21. The Postal Service receives no Federal Tax dollars and should enjoy the same property rights as any business to prohibit the collecting of funds or signatures on its property. Remember gents everyone’s entitled to their opinion. This is America 🙂

  22. #21, some State Supreme Courts have required owners of private property (specifically, malls) to permit First Amendment activity on their premises. In 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court in the Pruneyard case that if a state supreme court interprets its own state constitutional free speech provision to do that, there is nothing wrong with that.

    So when you say any private business can prohibit First Amendment activity on its property, you are being inaccurate.

  23. In light of the Postal Service’s current financial condition, it would be unfair to force them to have this activity outside their front door, yet allow their competitors (FedEx, UPS) to prohibit the same activity.

  24. #23, you haven’t yet acknowledged that it is already legal for petitioners to be on post office sidewalks, and to ask people to sign petitions. This “activity” already is carried on, but in a very inefficient manner. If it’s so terrible to have this “activity”, why does the postal service permit it?

    According to the US Postal Service web page, the service has 31,272 offices, and probably a majority of them have their own parking lots and their own interior sidewalks between the parking lot and the building. FedEx only has 1,800 locations. And FedEx locations that are in shopping malls in certain states must allow this “activity”.

  25. “Rick Says:
    March 17th, 2013 at 5:04 am
    The Postal Service receives no Federal Tax dollars and should enjoy the same property rights as any business to prohibit the collecting of funds or signatures on its property. Remember gents everyone’s entitled to their opinion. This is America :)”

    The courts have already ruled that corporate property that is open to the public is fair game for free speech activities. When you open up property to the public to come and go the public does not give up their rights when they enter said property.

    Also, the US Post Office is a government monopoly.

  26. “Rick Says:
    March 17th, 2013 at 2:57 pm
    In light of the Postal Service’s current financial condition, it would be unfair to force them to have this activity outside their front door, yet allow their competitors (FedEx, UPS) to prohibit the same activity.”

    I think that people should be able to petition in front of FedEx and UPS, and in fact, it is perfectly legal to do this in states that have recognized the right to petition at shopping centers which are opened to the public.

  27. There was a court case back in the 1940’s that went to the US Supreme Court called Marsh vs. Alabama. It was over free speech on corporate property. There was a town in Alabama where the entire town was owned by a corporation. Some person was engaging in religious speech and got arrested for refusing to stop or leave. The Supreme Court ruled that the person’s civil rights had been violated because although the town was owed by a corporation, it was open to the public, so therefore they had to recognize rights that are enumerated in the Constitution.

    I do not give up my rights when I enter the Post Office grounds.

  28. “If it’s so terrible to have this ‘activity’, why does the postal service permit it?”

    I’ve read the Post Office’s rules, and there are two activities that the Post Office allows (this is prior to the recent court ruling that Richard Winger references above that says that individuals can ask people to sign petitions but that they have to point them to go off of Post Office grounds to do the signing), and those are donation collection for military veteran organizations and non-partisan voter registration.

    If it is so horrilbe to have anything taking place in front of a Post Office, then why in their own rules do they make exceptions for collecting donations for military veterans and for non-partisan voter registration?

    I actually saw a Salvation Army person set up on the interior sidewalk of a Post Office back in 2011 (and it was not in a state that recognizes the right to collect petition signatures in public places) collecting donations. They were set up by the door and the Postal workers could have easily seen them, and I saw them their more than once. Why was this OK? It is not even in the Post Office rules to allow the Salvation Army. It seems to me to be hypocritical to allow them to be there but to not allow petition circulators to be there.

  29. “According to the US Postal Service web page, the service has 31,272 offices, and probably a majority of them have their own parking lots and their own interior sidewalks between the parking lot and the building.”

    I’ve worked on petitions in a lot of states, and I can tell everyone that this problem with the Post Office is a big problem for ballot access. The courts have ruled that people can petition in front of Post Offices where the entrances are directly off of city sidewalks, but the majority of Post Offices do not have entrances that are directly off of city sidewalks. So this puts a good 90% plus Post Offices off limits for petition circulation. Now it is true that petitioners will sometimes go to these places anyway, but we usually end up getting kicked out, sometimes quickly.

    There are a lot of places in this country where it is difficult to get locations where we can gather petition signatures. Most states do not recognize the right to collect signatures on corporate property, and most of the stores that are on the corporate property in these states will not allow us to collect petition signatures there. There are a lot of cities where there is little foot traffic any more on down town city sidewalks, and in some places the people walking around on city sidewalks are either homeless people (who are generally not registered to vote), tourists, or they are people who work down town who tend to either be in a hurry, or are rich snooty people who won’t sign petitions. There are a lot of towns which are too small to have much foot traffic on the side walks, and there are even some bigger towns/cities that one would think would have a lot of foot traffic, but really don’t have that much foot traffic down town (or only have it at certain times of day), and a lot of this is because most people do their shopping now at corporate shopping centers, most of which have banned free speech.

    So petition circulators often have to work in places where they can not find any locations where they can gather signatures without being run off. The same bogus arguments that Rick is using for the Post Office are also used at libraries, DMV’s, court houses, college campuses, arenas, parks, festivals, and shopping centers/stores. These bogus excuses to run off petitioners sometimes even gets used on city side walks and on petitioners going door-to-door in neighborhoods. If all of these reasons for running off petitioners were held up as being valid and were strigently enforced, there would be no place where petition signatures could be gathered, and I think that this is what the authoritarians in our society want. It is blatantly obvious that people like Rick don’t give a damn about individual rights or any sense of fairness.

    I can tell everyone from first hand experience that it would be a huge help for ballot access in this country if every Post Office was opened up as being a place where the 1st amendment was actually followed. Then petition circulators would always have at least one place to go to collect signatures, because every town has a Post Office. I was in situations last year where myself and other petition circulators really needed locations where we could go to ask people to sign, and there were some busy Post Offices in these areas, but we could not gather signatures at any of them because none of them had entrances that were directly off of city sidewalks. It would also help a lot with qualifying local petitions for the ballot, as in city or county petitions, or petitions for districts (like congressional districts, state legislative districts, etc…), because most of the people you encounter at a Post Office are from a local area, unlike say a festival or an event or a college campus, where you are more likely to run into people from all over a state, so being able to petition at Post Offices would be a big plus for being able to qualify local petitions for the ballot.

  30. “Remember gents everyone’s entitled to their opinion. This is America :)”

    Your opinion is not legitimate because it violates my rights, as well as the rights of everyone else who wants to put candidates or issues on the ballot, or who wants to petition the government for a redress of grievances in general. Your opinion is actually anti-American.

  31. One of the biggest excuses given to run off petition circulators is that somebody complained. This is what I call catering to the authoritarian/totalitarian elements in our society. I don’t give up my rights because some fascist cry baby complained. The proper response to a complainer should be something like, “This is the United States of America, not North Korea. If you don’t like free speech that’s your problem.”

    If I were to ever get elected as Sheriff in some county, I’d arrest people who try to prevent petitioners from gathering signatures. If some postal worker like Rick (I would not be surprised if he works at the Post Office) called the police on a petition signature gatherer, I’d arrest the postal worker for violating the civil rights of the petition circulator.

  32. We have the right to free speech, not the right to an audience. Speech is not banned in front of the Post Office. You can say anything you want. The USPS neutral policy bans the collection of funds and signatures. These activities impede the flow of traffic to and from the Post Office. Most USPS customers are pressed for time (ie lunch break or private company’s employees). They should not have to wade through a sea of barkers selling candidates, causes, initiatives, counterfeit Rolex watches, etc to complete the task their employer sent them there to do. I would be surprised if the Supreme Court turned every Post Office entryway into a carnival.

  33. #32, there are other regulations (that no one is challenging) against impeding pedestrian traffic.

  34. Rick, you seem only opposed to your candidate having opposition, not that your opposition is required to “impede the flow of traffic to and from the Post Office”. This is NOT a neutral USPS policy as it only applies to your opposition.

    If you are truly opposed to the “sea of barkers selling candidates, causes, initiatives” then you should write your state representative to oppose the requirement that petition signatures be gathered.

    But you have already tipped your hand in this debate. You aren’t opposed to the signature gatherers as much as you are opposed to your opponents having a voice.

    PEACE

  35. “32.Rick Says:
    March 18th, 2013 at 1:43 am
    We have the right to free speech, not the right to an audience.”

    If nobody can hear you speak, then you don’t really have a right to free speech.

    “Speech is not banned in front of the Post Office. You can say anything you want.”

    This right here illustrates Rick’s hypocrisy. Rick admits that people can speak in front of Post Offices. They could talk about a football game, or the weather, or talk about the line at the Post Office, or ask for directions, or ask if anyone could help them to jump start their car.

    However, if a person starts talking about politics, and then pulls out of piece of paper called a petition and asks another human being to sign it, then Rick throws a hissy fit and wants to call the police to have them removed. So Rick isn’t really concerned about shutting down speech, he just wants to shut down political speech, which is THE MOST IMPORTANT KIND OF SPEECH, and it is also the reason that the 1st amendment and similar provisions in state constitutions were written.

    “The USPS neutral policy bans the collection of funds and signatures.”

    I’ve read the Post Office’s regulations on multiple occasions, and I know (as I said above) that in the Post Office’s own rules, that it says that the permit the collection of donations for military veterans and also non-partisan voter registration. So what Rick is saying here is a lie.

    “These activities impede the flow of traffic to and from the Post Office.”

    Oh this is complete bull! I’ve stood in front of Post Offices and many other venues (such as DMV’s, libraries, stores, etc…) and gathered petition signatures and I have NEVER even once blocked the door or impeded traffic. I know plenty of other petitioners who have done the same and not blocked the door or impeded traffic. I think that most people have enough sense to not block the door or impede traffic. Anyone who does not is not going to last very long as a petitioner anyway. This is an absurd statement from Rick.

    “Most USPS customers are pressed for time (ie lunch break or private company’s employees).”

    How in the hell do you know whether or not most people going to Post Offices are pressed for time or not? Have you taken a scientific survey? If a person is really pressed for time then they don’t have to stop and sign any petitions. Nobody is forcing them to do anything. I have petitioned in front of Post Offices on many occasions and I’ve gotten plenty of signatures, so obviously not everyone is so pressed for time that they could not take a few moments to sign a petition.

    Notice how Rick wants to make a decision for everyone else that they are too pressed for time to stop and sign petitions instead of letting people judge for themselves as to whether or not they’ve got time to sign petitions. Rick is a nanny statist who thinks that he knows what’s best for everyone else instead of allowing people to make their own decisions. Rick would have no problem with living in a dictatorship.

    “They should not have to wade through a sea of barkers selling candidates, causes, initiatives, counterfeit Rolex watches, etc to complete the task their employer sent them there to do.”

    First off, nobody is talking about selling watches or anything else.

    Second of all, Rick can’t seem to grasp how the petition process works in this country. You see Rick, we the people have an unalienable right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Getting signatures on petitions is an American tradition. Early petitions to influence elected officials to take certain actions, such as to end chattel slavery, or to build a road. Some states wrote the abilitiy of citizens to do initiative and/or referendum and/or recall petitions into their state constitutions. These type of petitions place a question on the ballot for qualified voters to vote on in an election. A certain number of signatures are required to place these types of petitions on the ballot. Another type of petition requirement was created to place candidates or parties on ballots. One can agrue that candidates or parties should not have to petition to get on the ballot, and I think that this is a valid argument, but the fact of the matter is that unless or until somebody changes these laws to qualify candidates and parties for the ballot, if a person runs for office, particularly if they are a minor party or independent candidate, there’s a good chance that they will have to gather petition signatures in order to get placed on the ballot. Now some people like Rick may say, “Just write the candidate’s name in, you don’t need to do a petition.” Well, the fact of the matter is that some jurisdictions do not count write in votes, and more importantly, it is much harder for write in candidates to get any publicity. Write in candidates are usually ignored even more so than most minor party and independent candidates who are on the ballot are. So being a write in candidate is not very practical.

    There is another type of petition which I have not mentioned yet, and this is a Grand Jury petition. There are a few states (I think that there are 5 of them) that have a process whereby a citizens Grand Jury to investigate and prosecute a crime can be started by gathering a certain number of signatures on a petition.

    So whether the petition is to place candidates on the ballot, or whether it is to place an initiative or referendum on the ballot, or whether it is to get a recall election against an elected official, or whether it is to start a citizens Grand Jury, or even if it is just to urge government officials to take certain actions or to bring attention to an issue (these types of petitions are generally known as plebiscites in the petition world), people have to gather signatures on them in order for them to go anywhere, and in order to gather signatures on them people have to be able to go places to ask people to sign them. If you take away people’s ability to speak to other people to ask them to sign petitions, what you are doing is you are eliminating the petitioning process, and by eliminating the petitiioning process you move the country a big step closer to being a dictatorship.

    You may not have a problem with living in a dictatorship, Rick, but a lot of us do, and we dont want to give up our rights to free speech and to petition the government.

    “I would be surprised if the Supreme Court turned every Post Office entryway into a carnival.”

    Funny how Rick describes people engaging in a free speech activity that is protected by the US Constitution as well as the various state constitutions as a “carnival.” Rick thinks that anyone who doesn’t go locks step with whatever the regime in power says is some kind of carnival freak, as if it is “weird” or “kooky” to want to have any say over an action that the government takes, or to even question anything that the government does. Rick thinks that people should just shut up and do what they are told.

    I don’t know how the Supreme Court is going to rule on this issue, and I don’t even know whether or not it will even make it that far or if it will get thrown out on some technicality, but hopefully there will be one of those unfortunately too rare victories in favor of individual freedom, and every Post Office in this country will be opened up for petition signature gathering as well as any other free speech activity (such as religious speech, or simply informing people about an issue, like GMO foods or all of the questions surrounding what happened on 9/11 or whatever else).

    If we are to have a free society, or anything even closely resembling a free society, then it is essential for human beings to be able to communicate with one another, not just over a telephone or over the internet, and not just in the news media (much of which is controlled by big corporations and the government), but also in person, including in places where the general public has access (and note that most of the corporate stores have received tax payer funding of some type, and many of them are on land which was seized through eminent domain, and a lot of them are in fact partially owned by government entities (see http://www.CAFR1.com for more details on government Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports which reveal more information on this subject).

    Anyone who wants to take away, or place restrictions on free speech rights, or who wants to make it more difficult to do petitions, is a tyrant, including wanna be tyrants like Rick.

    I’d sure like to have the opportunity to debate Rick in a public forum and have it broadcast on television.

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