Cox v. New Hampshire 312 U.S. 569 (1941)

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COX v. NEW HAMPSHIRE 312 U.S. 569 (1941)

In this seminal decision, Chief Justice charles evans hughes, writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, synthesized a series of cases involving speeches, parades, and meetings in parks and on streets. He held that there was a "right of assembly … and… discussion of public questions immemorially associated with resort to public places," but that such a right was limited by the authority of local government to make reasonable regulations governing "the time, place and manner" of such speech, if the regulations did not involve "unfair discrimination" among speakers. The Court upheld a state law requiring parade licenses issued by local governments on the grounds that, as construed by the state supreme court, it authorized only such reasonable and nondiscriminatory regulations. Cox is one of the building blocks in the creation of the doctrine of the public forum.

This case took on renewed importance in the context of the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s. The crucial problem under the Cox test is often whether a law purporting to be a neutral regulation of traffic and noise control is actually a façade behind which local authorities seek to deny a public forum to speakers whose speech they dislike.

Martin Shapiro