Brief Fact Summary. This matter arises from approximately 200 Florida A&M students protesting the prior arrest of several of their classmates following a civil rights demonstration.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The United States Constitution (Constitution) does not forbid a State to control the use of its own property for its own lawful, non-discriminatory purpose. The State, no less than a private owner of property, has power to preserve the property under its control for the use to which it is lawfully dedicated.
Issue. Is there a First Amendment constitutional right to use the area surrounding a jail for purposes of freedom of expression?
Held. The Petitioners’ convictions under the trespass statute do not unconstitutionally deprive them of their rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly or petition.
Dissent. Not all public places are off limits to people with grievances. Furthermore, public places such as the county jail have, historically, been used as an outlet for protestors and demonstrators.
Discussion. The court focused on the acts of the sheriff as jail custodian. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) found that the sheriff was even-handed in his enforcement of the statute and that he did not react to the message of the protestors or disagree with their message. Furthermore, the Supreme Court seemed to be concerned with the “slippery slope” that might be created if an alternative judgment was made. The court took issue with the fact that certain groups of protestors believe that they have a constitutionally protected right to demonstrate however and wherever they choose. If the purpose of the State, as property owner, is non-discriminatory, then their actions will be protected.