Home General Lawsuit Against Ban on Interior Postal Sidewalk Petitioning is Now 9 Years Old
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Lawsuit Against Ban on Interior Postal Sidewalk Petitioning is Now 9 Years Old

Published on July 5, 2009, by in General.

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.

4 Responses

  1. Demo Rep

    Standard — Justice delayed is Justice DENIED.

  2. Andy

    Why in the hell is it taking so long for there to be a decision in this case? It should be a no-brainer. OF COURSE WE THE PEOPLE HAVE A RIGHT TO PETITION IN FRONT OF ANY POST OFFICE IN THE COUNTRY!

  3. Michael Seebeck

    This one really is a no-brainer. The sidewalks are considered public use rights-of-way and therefore a public fora. Most of them aren’t even owned by the PO in the first place, and therefore isn’t their property. Why this Judge has a severe case of procrastination is senseless.

    In the meantime, anyone can petition or protest there as much as they want, so long as access to the PO is not blocked.

  4. Andy

    “In the meantime, anyone can petition or protest there as much as they want, so long as access to the PO is not blocked.”

    The most recent ruling in this case says that one can petition in front of a Post Office only if it is a Post Office that’s entrance is directly off of a city sidewalk.

    The problem with this is that most Post Offices are NOT directly off of city sidewalks. So this effectively puts at least 90% of Post Offices off limits for petitioning.

    Another thing that is ridiculous about this ruling is that there are already other court rulings that protect free speech activities on public sidewalks, so the ruling that we can petition in front of Post Offices that have enterances directly off of city sidewalks is redundant.

    Having access to Post Offices for petitioning is a pretty big issue. The reason that it is a big issue is because in a lot of parts of this country it is difficult to find places where one can the public to sign petitions. If access to all Post Offices was opened up for petitioning it would mean that a petitioners would always have a gaurenteed location for signature gathering anywhere in the country. This would be a big plus for ballot access.

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