Cornelius v. Naacp Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. 473 U.S. 788 (1985)

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This decision demonstrated how cumbersome the Supreme Court's analysis of public forum issues has become since its decision in perry education association v. perry local educators ' association (1983).

A 1983 executive order limited the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), a charity drive among federal employees, to charities that provide direct health and welfare services, and expressly excluded legal defense and advocacy groups. Seven such groups sued in federal district court, challenging their exclusion as a violation of the first amendment. That court agreed, and issued an injunction forbidding exclusion of the groups from CFC. The court of appeals affirmed, but the Supreme Court reversed, 4–3, in an opinion by Justice sandra day o'connor.

The Court held that the government had not designated either the federal workplace or CFC in particular as a public forum, in the sense of the Perry opinion. Rather, each of these was a "nonpublic forum"—a government operation in which communications could be limited to those promoting the operation's mission. CFC's purpose was to provide a means for government employees to lessen the government's burden in meeting human health and welfare needs, by making their own contributions to those ends. It was not necessary, in excluding the plaintiffs from CFC, to show that their solicitations would be incompatible with the goals of CFC; the relevant standard was the reasonableness of the exclusion. The President could reasonably conclude that money raised for direct provision of food or shelter was more beneficial than money raised for litigation or advocacy on behalf of the needy. Furthermore, the government could properly avoid the appearance of political favoritism by excluding all such groups. Those organizations had alternative means for raising funds from government employees, including direct mail advertising and in-person solicitation outside the workplace.

The Court, recognizing that other groups not in the business of direct provision of health and welfare services had been allowed to participate in CFC, remanded the case for determination whether the government had excluded the plaintiff groups for the purpose of suppressing their particular viewpoints.

Justice harry a. blackmun, joined by Justice william j. brennan, dissented, arguing that any governmental exclusion of a class of speakers from any forum must be justified by a showing that the would-be speakers' intended use of the forum was incompatible with the relevant governmental operation. Here no such incompatibility had been shown, he said. Justice john paul stevens, also dissenting, expressed skepticism about the value of a doctrine founded on a series of categories of forum. In this case, he said, the government's own arguments supported "the inference of bias" against the excluded groups.

Kenneth L. Karst

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Cornelius v. Naacp Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. 473 U.S. 788 (1985)

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