This Supreme Court decision invalidated a resolution adopted by the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners that proclaimed that “the Central Terminal Area at Los Angeles International Airport is not open for First Amendment activities by any individual and/or entity.”
Jews for Jesus, Inc. challenged the resolution on the grounds that it was facially unconstitutional. It applied to speech in a public forum; the city applied it to Jews for Jesus in a discriminatory fashion; and it was unconstitutionally vague and suffered from overbreadth. The U.S. district court sided with Jews for Jesus on the first of these grounds, which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s decision for the Court in Board of Airport Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles v. Jews for Jesus, Inc., 482 U.S. 569 (1987), upheld the lower-court judgments, but found the resolution facially unconstitutional on the overbreadth ground.
Overbreadth and public forums
O’Connor believed overbreadth would apply whether the airport was classified as a traditional public forum, as a public forum created by goverrnment designation, or even as a nonpublic forum.
She observed, “On its face the resolution at issue in this case reaches the universe of expressive activity, and by prohibiting all protected expression, purports to create a virtual ‘First Amendment Free Zone’ at LAX.” As written, the resolution would apply even to conversation or to wearing campaign buttons or symbolic clothing. O’Connor further pointed out that the Court could not save the resolution simply through judicial construction because it was so vague. A multitude of suits would have to be brought before all the issues raised by the resolution could be resolved.
In a brief concurring opinion joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Justice Byron R. White indicated that he did not think the decision meant that the majority considered the airport a traditional public forum, and he thought the Court should have decided this issue.
John Vile is professor of political science and dean of the Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University. He is co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the First Amendment. This article was originally published in 2009.Send Feedback on this article