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Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins


Although the Court had previously found that the Constitution did not guarantee freedom of speech at privately owned shopping centers, this ruling granted states a greater latitude of freedom under their own constitutions.

Starting in 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court began to develop the "public forum" doctrine in free speech issues. Controversial protests or leafleting were protected if they occurred in a public forum, though government could set limits on the "time, place and manner" of the speech. Most of the cases that further shaped this doctrine dealt with public spaces or government property. Eventually, the Court also considered if and when a privately owned area could serve as a public forum.

Shopping centers were often the subject of debate, as different political groups tried to picket or distribute information in these privately owned retail areas, and the owners tried to stop them. After some initial inconsistency in the Court's decisions regarding First Amendment protections in a shopping center, the Court clarified its stance in Hudgens v. National Labor Relations Board (1976). Shopping centers were not public forums, and they could restrict speech, as long as they did it independently, without any state involvement or encouragement.

In 1980, however, a California case tested whether states could compel a shopping center to allow some displays of expression, with certain time, place, and manner restrictions. On a Saturday afternoon, a group of high school students, including Michael Robins, set up a table in the central courtyard at the Pruneyard Shopping Center. The center included more than 65 stores, ten restaurants, and a movie theater. The students handed out pamphlets and collected signatures for a petition that criticized a United Nations resolution that condemned Zionism, a form of Jewish nationalism.

After a short while, a Pruneyard security guard told the students to leave, as their activities violated the shopping center's regulations against the circulation of petitions. Later, Robins and the other students sued the shopping center in California Superior Court.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins - Significance, The State's Constitutional Guarantee Of Free Speech, The First Amendment Concerns, Related Cases