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Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley

Citation. 408 U.S. 92, 92 S. Ct. 2286, 33 L. Ed. 2d 212, 1972 U.S. 133.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Respondent, Earl Mosely (Respondent), was convicted on a charge of disorderly conduct stemming from his picketing of Jones Commercial High School, in violation of a Chicago ordinance outlawing his conduct, but permitting the picketing of any school involved in a labor dispute.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The government may not grant the use of a forum to people whose views it finds acceptable, but deny use to those wishing to express less favored or more controversial views and it may not select which issues are worth discussing or debating in public facilities. Once a forum is opened up to assembly or speaking by some groups, government may not prohibit others from assembling or speaking on the basis of what they have to say. Selective exclusions from a public forum may not be based on content alone and may not be justified by reference to content alone.


For seven months prior to the enactment of the Chicago ordinance, the Respondent, a federal postal employee, frequently picketed the high school. During school hours and usually by himself, the Respondent would walk the public sidewalk adjoining the school, carrying a sign that read: “Jones High School practices black discrimination. Jones High School has a black quota.” The Respondent was always peaceful, orderly and quiet in his picketing.


At issue is the constitutionality of a Chicago ordinance providing that “a person commits disorderly conduct when he knowingly pickets or demonstrates on a public way within 150 feet of any school building while the school is in session, provided that this subsection does not prohibit the peaceful picketing of any school involved in a labor dispute.”


The ordinance is unconstitutional because it makes an impermissible distinction between labor picketing and other peaceful picketing.


The holding of this case deals with the problem in Chicago’s ordinance that describes permissible conduct in terms of subject matter. In this case, the ordinance at issue described impermissible picketing not in terms of time, place or circumstance, as is allowed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution), but rather as a concern about the message’s content. This type of restriction is never permitted. The court also rebutted the city’s argument that its enforcement of the ordinance was justified in the name of public safety. Under the Equal Protection Clause, because the picketing of the type the Respondent was doing was not clearly more disruptive than the picketing allowed in the ordinance, the ordinance also fails on equal protection grounds.

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