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Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins

The State's Constitutional Guarantee Of Free Speech

Both the superior court and the California Court of Appeals ruled that the students did not have a federal or state constitutional right of expression at a privately owned shopping center. The state supreme court, however, overruled this decision. In its interpretation of the state constitution, the supreme court said the students had a right of expression and petition on private property, as long as it was "reasonably exercised."

Fred Sahadi, the owner of Pruneyard, argued that giving people the right to distribute pamphlets at the center infringed on his property rights. The California Supreme Court disagreed, reasoning that Pruneyard attracted 25,000 people a day, and "a handful of additional orderly persons, soliciting signatures and distributing handbills . . . would not markedly dilute defendant's property rights."

Appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Pruneyard owner again argued for the protection of his property rights. The Court had previously ruled that those rights included the right to exclude others from private property. Pruneyard also claimed that it had First Amendment rights not to be compelled by the state to let others use its land as a public forum. The Court, however, voted unanimously to affirm the decision of the California Supreme Court.

Justice Rehnquist wrote the decision, and he first examined the appellant's claims regarding property rights. He acknowledged that the Court earlier, in Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner (1972), stated that private property remains private, even when the public is invited to use the land for shopping or other purposes. But the Lloyd decision, Rehnquist continued, did not " . . . limit the authority of the State to exercise its police power or its sovereign right to adopt in its own Constitution individual liberties more expansive than those conferred by the Federal Constitution."

As far as the right to exclude, Pruneyard had argued that if it lost that right, the state was in effect unfairly "taking" its property, which was prohibited by the Fifth Amendment. But the Court said not every infringement on property rights constitutes a taking in the constitutional sense, and ensuring freedom of expression at the property owner's expense was not an unconstitutional taking. "There is nothing to suggest that preventing appellants from prohibiting this sort of activity will unreasonably impair the value or use of their property as a shopping center."

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