Forsyth County, Georgia v. Nationalist Movement 505 U.S. 123 (1992)
FORSYTH COUNTY, GEORGIA V. NATIONALIST MOVEMENT 505 U.S. 123 (1992)
Forsyth County, Georgia had described itself as "the whitest county in America," and when some ninety civil rights demonstrators staged a march, about 400 counterdemonstrators broke up the march, throwing rocks and bottles. The next weekend the civil rights marchers returned, 20,000 strong, protected from 1,000 opponents (including members of the Ku Klux Klan and the Nationalist Movement) by 3,000 police officers and National Guardsmen. The protection cost $670,000, a small part of which was paid by the county. The county commissioners then adopted an ordinance requiring a permit for parading, conditioned on a permit fee of up to $1,000, depending on the expense incident to maintaining public order. Two years later the Nationalist Movement sought a permit to hold its own march on the birthday of martin luther king, jr. The county demanded a permit fee of $100, based not on anticipated costs of policing but on the cost of ten hours of administrative work. In the previous year such fees had ranged from $5 (for the Girl Scouts) to $100 (for the Nationalist Movement). The Movement sued to enjoin the county from imposing the fee, lost in the District Court, but won in the U.S. Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court affirmed, 5–4. jr. the county demanded a permit fee of $100, based not on anticipated costs of policing but on the cost of ten hours of administrative work. in the previous year such fees had ranged from $5 (for the girl scouts) to $100 (for the nationalist movement). the movement sued to enjoin the county from imposing the fee, lost in the district court, but won in the u.s. court of appeals. the supreme court affirmed, 5–4.
For the majority, Justice harry a. blackmun concluded that the ordinance was invalid because it gave "standardless discretion" to the licensing official, whose decision was unreviewable. Such a power carried the risk that the official might vary the fee according to his like or dislike for the parade's message content, or his anticipation of the degree of hostility to that content. Chief Justice william h. rehnquist, for the dissenting Justices, would have upheld the ordinance against a facial attack on the basis of
cox v. new hampshire (1941), and would withhold judicial intervention until the ordinance was given a message-content-based application.
Kenneth L. Karst
(see also: Freedom of Speech.)