JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
We noted probable jurisdiction to decide whether the United States District Court for the Southern District of
Appellee Council of Greenburgh Civic Associations (Council) is an umbrella organization for a number of civic groups in Westchester County, N. Y. Appellee Saw Mill Valley Civic Association is one of the Council's member groups. In June 1976, the Postmaster in White Plains, N. Y., notified the Chairman of the Saw Mill Valley Civic Association that the association's practice of delivering messages to local residents by placing unstamped notices and pamphlets in the letterboxes of private homes was in violation of 18 U. S. C. § 1725, which provides:
Saw Mill Valley Civic Association and other Council members were advised that if they continued their practice of placing unstamped notices in the letterboxes of private homes it could result in a fine not to exceed $300.
In February 1977, appellees filed this suit in the District Court for declaratory and injunctive relief from the Postal Service's threatened enforcement of § 1725. Appellees contended that the enforcement of § 1725 would inhibit their
The District Court initially dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. 448 F.Supp. 159 (SDNY 1978). On appeal, however, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed and remanded the case to the District Court to give the parties "an opportunity to submit proof as to the extent of the handicap to communication caused by enforcement of the statute in the area involved, on the one hand, and the need for the restriction for protection of the mails, on the other." 586 F.2d 935, 936 (1978). In light of this language, it was not unreasonable for the District Court to conclude that it had been instructed to "try" the statute, much as more traditional issues of fact are tried by a court, and that is what the District Court proceeded to do.
In the proceedings on remand, the Postal Service offered three general justifications for § 1725: (1) that § 1725 protects mail revenues; (2) that it facilitates the efficient and secure delivery of the mails; and (3) that it promotes the privacy of mail patrons. More specifically, the Postal Service argued that elimination of § 1725 could cause the overcrowding of mailboxes due to the deposit of civic association notices. Such overcrowding would in turn constitute an impediment to the delivery of the mails. Testimony was offered that § 1725 aided the investigation of mail theft by restricting access to letterboxes, thereby enabling postal investigators to assume that anyone other than a postal carrier or a householder who opens a mailbox may be engaged in the violation of the law. On this point, a postal inspector testified that 10% of the arrests made under the external mail theft statute, 18 U. S. C. § 1708, resulted from surveillance-type operations which benefit from enforcement of § 1725. Testimony was also introduced that § 1725 has been
The Postal Service introduced testimony that it would incur additional expense if § 1725 were either eliminated or held to be inapplicable to civic association materials. If delivery in mailboxes were expanded to permit civic association circulars—but not other types of nonmailable matter such as commercial materials—mail carriers would be obliged to remove and examine individual unstamped items found in letterboxes to determine if their deposit there was lawful. Carriers would also be confronted with a larger amount of unstamped mailable matter which they would be obliged to separate from outgoing mail. The extra time resulting from these additional activities. When computed on a nationwide basis, would add substantially to the daily cost of mail delivery.
The final justification offered by the Postal Service for § 1725 was that the statute provided significant protection for the privacy interests of postal customers. Section 1725 provides postal customers the means to send and receive mails without fear of their correspondence becoming known to members of the community.
The District Court found the above arguments of the Postal Service insufficient to sustain the constitutionality of § 1725 at least as applied to these appellees. 490 F.Supp. 157 (1980). Relying on the earlier opinion of the Court of Appeals, the District Court noted that the legal standard it was to apply would give the appellees relief if the curtailment of their interest in free expression resulting from enforcement of § 1725 substantially outweighed the Government's interests in the effective delivery and protection of the mails. The District Court concluded that the appellees had satisfied this standard.
The District Court based its decision on several findings. The court initially concluded that because civic associations generally have small cash reserves and cannot afford the applicable postage rates, mailing of the appellees' message would be financially burdensome. Similarly, because of the relatively slow pace of the mail, use of the mails at certain times would impede the appellees' ability to communicate quickly with their constituents. Given the widespread awareness
The court also found that none of the alternative means of delivery suggested by the Postal Service were "nearly as effective as placing civic association flyers in approved mailboxes; so that restriction on the [appellees'] delivery methods to such alternatives also constitutes a serious burden on [appellees'] ability to communicate with their constituents." 490 F. Supp., at 160.
The present case is a good example of Justice Holmes' aphorism that "a page of history is worth a volume of logic."
By the early 18th century, the posts were made a sovereign function in almost all nations because they were considered a sovereign necessity. Government without communication is impossible, and until the invention of the telephone and telegraph, the mails were the principal means of communication. Kappel Commission, Toward Postal Excellence, Report of the President's Commission on Postal Organization 47 (Comm. Print 1968). Little progress was made in developing a postal system in Colonial America until the appointment of Benjamin Franklin, formerly Postmaster at Philadelphia, as Deputy Postmaster General for the American Colonies in 1753. In 1775, Franklin was named the first Postmaster General by the Continental Congress, and, because of the trend toward war, the Continental Congress undertook its first serious effort to establish a secure mail delivery organization in order to maintain communication between the States and to supply revenue for the Army. D. Adie, An Evaluation of Postal Service Wage Rates 2 (American Enterprise Institute, 1977).
Given the importance of the post to our early Nation, it is not surprising that when the United States Constitution was ratified in 1789. Art. I, § 8, provided Congress the power "To establish Post Offices and post Roads" and "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper" for executing this task. The Post Office played a vital yet largely unappreciated role in the development of our new Nation. Stagecoach trails which were improved by the Government to become post roads quickly became arteries of commerce. Mail contracts were of great assistance to the early development of new means of transportation such as canals, railroads, and eventually airlines. Kappel Commission. Toward
The growth of postal service over the past 200 years has been remarkable. Annual revenues increased from less than $40 million in 1790 to close to $200 million in 1829 when the Postmaster General first became a member of the Cabinet. However, expenditures began exceeding revenues as early as the 1820's as the postal structure struggled to keep pace with the rapid growth of the country westward. Because of this expansion, delivery costs to the South and West raised average postal costs nationally. To prevent competition from private express services, Congress passed the Postal Act of 1845, which prohibited competition in letter mail and established what is today referred to as the "postal monopoly."
More recently, to deal with the problems of increasing deficits and shortcomings in the overall management and efficiency of the Post Office. Congress passed the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. This Act transformed the Post Office Department into a Government-owned corporation called the United States Postal Service. The Postal Service today is among the largest employers in the world, with a work force nearing 700,000 processing 106.3 billion pieces of mail each year. Ann. Rep. of the Postmaster General 2, 11 (1980). The Postal Service is the Nation's largest user of floor space, and the Nation's largest nonmilitary purchaser of transport, operating more than 200,000 vehicles. Its rural carriers alone travel over 21 million miles each day and its city carriers walk or drive another million miles a day. D. Adie, An Evaluation of Postal Service Wage Rates, supra, at 1. Its operating budget in fiscal 1980 exceeded $17 billion. Ann. Rep. of the Postmaster General, supra, at 2.
Not surprisingly, Congress has established a detailed statutory and regulatory scheme to govern this country's vast postal system. See 39 U. S. C. § 401 et seq. and the Domestic Mail Manual (DMM), which has been incorporated by
Acting under this authority, the Postal Service has provided by regulation that both urban and rural postal customers must provide appropriate mail receptacles meeting detailed specifications concerning size, shape, and dimensions. DMM 155.41, 155.43, 156.311, 156.51, and 156.54. By regulation, the Postal Service has also provided that "[e]very letter box or other receptacle intended or used for the receipt or delivery of mail on any city delivery route, rural delivery route, highway contract route, or other mail route is designated an authorized depository for mail within the meaning of 18 U. S. C. [§] 1725." DMM 151.1. A letterbox provided by a postal customer which meets the Postal Service's specifications not only becomes part of the Postal Service's nationwide system for the receipt and delivery of mail, but is also afforded the protection of the federal statutes prohibiting the damaging or destruction of mail deposited therein. See 18 U. S. C. §§ 1702, 1705, and 1708.
It is not without irony that this elaborate system of regulation, coupled with the historic dependence of the Nation on the Postal Service, has been the causal factor which led to this litigation. For it is because of the very fact that virtually every householder wishes to have a mailing address and a receptacle in which mail sent to that address will be deposited by the Postal Service that the letterbox or other mail receptacle is attractive to those who wish to convey messages within a locality but do not wish to purchase the stamp or pay such other fee as would permit them to be transmitted
Postal Service regulations, however, provide that letterboxes and other receptacles designated for the delivery of mail "shall be used exclusively for matter which bears postage." DMM 151.2.
Section 1725 was enacted in 1934 "to curb the practice of depositing statements of account, circulars, sale bills, etc., in letter boxes established and approved by the Postmaster General for the receipt or delivery of mail matter without payment of postage thereon by making this a criminal offense." H. R. Rep. No. 709, 73d Cong., 2d Sess., 1 (1934). Both the Senate and House Committees on Post Offices and Post Roads explained the principal motivation for § 1725 as follows:
Nothing in any of the legislation or regulations recited above requires any person to become a postal customer. Anyone is free to live in any part of the country without having letters or packages delivered or received by the Postal Service by simply failing to provide the receptacle for those letters and packages which the statutes and regulations require. Indeed, the provision for "General Delivery" in most post offices enables a person to take advantage of the facilities
As early as the last century, this Court recognized the broad power of Congress to act in matters concerning the posts:
However broad the postal power conferred by Art. I may be, it may not of course be exercised by Congress in a manner that abridges the freedom of speech or of the press protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. In this case we are confronted with the appellees' assertion that the First Amendment guarantees them the right to deposit, without payment of postage, their notices, circulars, and flyers in
In addressing appellees' claim, we note that we are not here confronted with a regulation which in any way prohibits individuals from going door-to-door to distribute their message or which vests unbridled discretion in a governmental official to decide whether or not to permit the distribution to occur. We are likewise not confronted with a regulation which in any way restricts the appellees' right to use the mails. The appellees may mail their civic notices in the ordinary fashion, and the Postal Service will treat such notices identically with all other mail without regard to content. There is no claim that the Postal Service treats civic notices, because of their content, any differently from the way it treats any of the other mail it processes. Admittedly, if appellees do choose to mail their notices, they will be required to pay postage in a manner identical to other Postal Service patrons, but appellees do not challenge the imposition of a fee for the services provided by the Postal Service.
Appellees' claim is undermined by the fact that a letterbox, once designated an "authorized depository," does not at the same time undergo a transformation into a "public forum" of some limited nature to which the First Amendment guarantees access to all comers. There is neither historical nor constitutional support for the characterization of a letterbox as a public forum. Letterboxes are an essential part of the nationwide system for the delivery and receipt of
Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of any reason why this Court should treat a letterbox differently for First Amendment access purposes than it has in the past treated the military base in Greer v. Spock, 424 U.S. 828 (1976), the jail or prison in Adderley v. Florida, 385 U.S. 39 (1966), and Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Union, 433 U.S. 119 (1977), or the advertising space made available in city rapid transit cars in Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights, 418 U.S. 298 (1974). In all these cases, this Court recognized that the First Amendment does not guarantee access to property simply because it is owned or controlled by the government. In Greer v. Spock, supra, the Court cited approvingly from its earlier opinion in Adderley v. Florida, supra, wherein it explained that "`[t]he State, no less than a private owner of
This Court has not hesitated in the past to hold invalid
From the time of the issuance of the first postage stamp in this country at Brattleboro, Vt., in the fifth decade of the last century, through the days of the governmentally subsidized "Pony Express" immediately before the Civil War, and through the less admirable era of the Star Route Mail Frauds in the latter part of that century, Congress has actively exercised the authority conferred upon it by the Constitution "to establish Post Offices and Post Roads" and "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper" for executing this task. While Congress, no more than a suburban township, may not by its own ipse dixit destroy the "public forum" status of streets and parks which have historically been public forums, we think that for the reasons stated a letterbox may not properly be analogized to streets and parks.
JUSTICE BRENNAN, concurring in the judgment.
I concur in the judgment, but not in the Court's opinion. I believe the Court errs in not determining whether § 1725 is a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction on appellees' exercise of their First Amendment rights, as urged by the Government, and in resting its judgment instead on the conclusion that a letterbox is not a public forum. In my view, this conclusion rests on an improper application of the Court's precedents and ignores the historic role of the mails as a national medium of communication.
Section 1725 provides:
Unquestionably, § 1725 burdens in some measure the First Amendment rights of appellees who seek to "communicate ideas, positions on local issues, and civic information to their constituents," through delivery of circulars door-to-door. 490 F.Supp. 157, 162 (1980). See Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 146-147 (1943). The statute requires appellees either to pay postage to obtain access to the postal system, which they assert they are unable to do, or to deposit
Despite the burden on appellees' rights, I conclude that the statute is constitutional because it is a reasonable time, place, and manner regulation. See Schad v. Mount Ephraim, 452 U.S. 61, 74-77 (1981); Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Service Comm'n, 447 U.S. 530, 535-536 (1980); Linmark Associates, Inc. v. Willingboro, 431 U.S. 85, 93 (1977); Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 115-116 (1972). First, § 1725 is content-neutral because it is not directed at the content of the message appellees seek to convey, but applies equally to all mailable matter. See Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Service Comm'n, supra, at 536; Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, 422 U.S. 205, 209-211 (1975); Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92, 95 (1972).
Second, the burden on expression advances a significant governmental interest—preventing loss of mail revenues. The District Court's finding that the "failure to enforce the statute as to [appellees] would [not] result in a substantial loss of revenue" may be true, 490 F.Supp. 157, 163 (emphasis added), but that conclusion overlooks the obvious cumulative effect that the District Court's ruling would have if applied across the country. Surely, the Government is correct when it argues that the Postal Service "is not required to make a case-by-case showing of a compelling need for the incremental revenue to be realized from charging postage to each organization or individual who desires to use the postal system to engage in expression protected by the First Amendment." Reply Brief for Appellant 8.
Third, there are "ample alternative channels for communication." Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Service Comm'n, 447 U. S. at 535. Appellees may, for example, place their circulars under doors or attach them to doorknobs. Simply because recipients may find 82% of materials left in the letterbox, but only 70-75% of materials otherwise left at the residence, is not a sufficient reason to conclude that alternative
The Court declines to analyze § 1725 as a time, place, and manner restriction. Instead, it concludes that a letterbox is not a public forum. Ante, at 128. Thus the Court states that
I believe that the Court's conclusion ignores the proper method of analysis in determining whether property owned or directly controlled by the Government is a public forum. Moreover, even if the Court were correct that a letterbox is not a public forum, the First Amendment would still require the Court to determine whether the burden on appellees' exercise of their First Amendment rights is supportable as a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction.
For public forum analysis, "[t]he crucial question is whether the manner of expression is basically incompatible with the normal activity of a particular place at a particular time." Grayned v. City of Rockford, supra, at 116. We have often quoted Justice Holmes' observation that the "'United States may give up the Post Office when it sees fit, but while it carries it on the use of the mails is almost as much a part of free speech as the right to use our tongues . . . .'" Blount v. Rizzi, 400 U.S. 410, 416 (1971), and Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301, 305 (1965), quoting United States exrel.
The history of the mails as a vital national medium of expression confirms this conclusion. Just as "streets and parks . . . have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions," Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496, 515 (1939),
The Court further points out that "[t]he Post Office played a vital . . . role in the development of our new Nation," ibid. (emphasis added), and currently processes "106.3 billion pieces of mail each year," ante, at 122. The variety of communication transported by the Postal Service ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, and includes newspapers, magazines, books, films, and almost any type and form of expression imaginable. See Kappel Commission. Toward Postal Excellence,
Not only does the Court misapprehend the historic role that the mails have played in national communication, but it relies on inapposite cases to reach its result. Greer v. Spock,
Having determined that a letterbox is not a public forum, the Court inexplicably terminates its analysis. Surely, however, the mere fact that property is not a public forum does not free government to impose unwarranted restrictions on First Amendment rights. The Court itself acknowledges that the postal power "may not . . . be exercised by Congress in a manner that abridges the freedom of speech or of the press protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution." Ante, at 126. Even where property does not constitute a public forum, government regulation that is content-neutral must still be reasonable as to time, place, and manner. See, e. g., Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc., 427 U.S. 50, 63, n. 18 (1976). Cf. Linmark Associates, Inc. v. Willingboro, 431 U. S., at 92-93; Virginia Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U.S. 748, 771 (1976). The
I would conclude, contrary to the Court, that a letterbox is a public forum, but, nevertheless, concur in the judgment because I conclude that 18 U. S. C. § 1725 is a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction on appellees' exercise of their First Amendment rights.
JUSTICE WHITE, concurring in the judgment.
There is no doubt that the postal system is a massive, Government-operated communications facility open to all forms of written expression protected by the First Amendment. No one questions, however, that the Government, the operator of the system, may impose a fee on those who would use the system, even though the user fee measurably reduces the ability of various persons or organizations to communicate with others. Appellees do not argue that they may use the mail for home delivery free of charge. A self-evident justification for postage is that the Government may insist that those who use the mails contribute to the expense of maintaining and operating the facility.
No different answer is required in this case because appellees do not insist on free home delivery and desire to use only a part of the system, the mailbox. The Government's interest in defraying its operating expenses remains, and it is clear
This justification would suffice even in those situations where insisting on the fee will totally prevent the putative user from communicating with his intended correspondents, i. e., there would be no adequate alternative means available to reach the intended recipients. For this reason, if for no other, I do not find it appropriate to inquire whether the restriction at issue here is a reasonable time, place or manner regulation. Besides that, however, it is apparent that the validity of user fees does not necessarily depend on satisfying typical time, place or manner requirements.
Equally bootless is the inquiry whether the postal system is a public forum. For all who will pay the fee, it obviously is, and the only question is whether a user fee may be charged, as a general proposition and in the circumstances of this case. Because I am quite sure that the fee is a valid charge, I concur in the judgment.
JUSTICE MARSHALL, dissenting.
When the Framers of the Constitution granted Congress the authority "[t]o establish Post Offices and Post Roads," Art. I, § 8, cl. 7, they placed the powers of the Federal Government behind a national communication service. Protecting the economic viability and efficiency of that service remains a legitimate and important congressional objective. This case involves a statute defended on that ground, but I believe it is unnecessary for achieving that purpose and inconsistent with the underlying commitment to communication.
The challenged statute, 18 U. S. C. § 1725, prohibits anyone from knowingly placing unstamped "mailable matter" in any box approved by the United States Postal Service for receiving or depositing material carried by the Postal Service. Violators may be punished with fines of up to $300 for each offense. In this case, appellee civic associations claimed, and
The Court today upholds the statute on the theory that its focus—the letterbox situated on residential property—is not a public forum to which the First Amendment guarantees access. I take exception to the result, the analysis, and the premise that private persons lose their prerogatives over the letterboxes they own and supply for mail service.
First, I disagree with the Court's assumption that if no public forum is involved, the only First Amendment challenges to be considered are whether the regulation is contentbased, see ante, at 132-133, and reasonable, ante, at 131, n. 7. Even if the Postal Service were not a public forum, which, as I later suggest, I do not accept, the statute advanced in its aid is a law challenged as an abridgment of free expression. Appellees seek to carry their own circulars and to deposit them in letterboxes owned by private persons who use them to receive mail, and challenge the criminal statute forbidding this use of private letterboxes. The question, then, is whether this statute burdens any First Amendment rights enjoyed by appellees. If so, it must be determined whether this burden is justified by a significant governmental interest substantially advanced by the statute. See Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Service Comm'n, 447 U.S. 530, 540 (1980); Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 115 (1972); Cameron v. Johnson, 390 U.S. 611, 616-617 (1968); Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, 96, 104-105 (1940).
That appellee civic associations enjoy the First Amendment right of free expression cannot be doubted; both their purposes and their practices fall within the core of the First Amendment's protections. We have long recognized the constitutional rights of groups which seek, as appellees do, to "communicate ideas, positions on local issues, and civic information to their constituents"
Countervailing public interests, such as protection against fraud and preservation of privacy, may warrant some limitation on door-to-door solicitation and canvassing. But we have consistently held that nay such restrictions, to be valid, must be narrowly drawn "`in such a manner as not to intrude upon the rights of free speech.'" Hynes v. Mayor and Council of Borough of Oradell, 425 U.S. 610, 616 (1976), quoting Thomas v. Collins, 323 U.S. 516, 540-541 (1945). Consequently, I cannot agree with the Court's conclusion, ante, at 132-133, that we need not ask whether the ban against placing such messages in letterboxes is a restriction on appellees' free expression rights. Once appellees are at the doorstep, only § 1725 restricts them from placing their circulars in the box provided by the resident. The District Court determined after an evidentiary hearing that only by placing their circulars in the letterboxes may appellees be certain that their messages will be secure from wind, rain, or snow, and at the same time will alert the attention of the residents without
I see no ground to disturb these factual determinations of the trier of fact. And, given these facts, the Postal Service bears a heavy burden to show that its interests are legitimate and substantially served by the restriction of appellees' freedom of expression. See, e. g., Hynes v. Mayor and Council of the Borough of Oradell, supra, at 617-618; Konigsberg v. State Bar of California, 366 U.S. 36, 49-51 (1961); Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501, 509 (1946). Although the majority does not rule that the trial court's findings were clearly erroneous, as would be required to set them aside, the Court finds persuasive the interests asserted by the Postal Service in defense of the statute. Those interests—"protect[ing] mail revenues while at the same time facilitating the secure and efficient delivery of the mails," ante, at 129—are indeed both legitimate and important. But mere assertion of an important, legitimate interest does not satisfy the requirement that the challenged restriction specifically and precisely serve that end. See Hynes v. Mayor and Council of the Borough of
Here, the District Court concluded that the Postal Service "has not shown that failure to enforce the statute as to [appellees] would result in a substantial loss of revenue, or a significant reduction in the government's ability to protect the mails by investigating and prosecuting mail theft, mail fraud, or unauthorized private mail delivery service." 490 F. Supp., at 163.
Even apart from the result in this case, I must differ with the Court's use of the public forum concept to avoid application of the First Amendment. Rather than a threshold barrier that must be surmounted before reaching the terrain of the First Amendment, the concept of a public forum has more properly been used to open varied governmental locations to equal public access for free expression, subject to the constraints on time, place, or manner necessary to preserve the governmental function. E. g., Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U. S., at 115-117 (area around public school); Chicago Area Military Project v. Chicago, 508 F.2d 921 (CA7) (city airport), cert. denied, 421 U.S. 992 (1975); Albany Welfare Rights Organization v. Wyman, 493 F.2d 1319 (CA2) (welfare office waiting room), cert. denied sub nom. Lavine v. Albany Welfare Rights Organization, 419 U.S. 838 (1974);
I believe these precedents support my conclusion that appellees should prevail in their First Amendment claim. The traditional function of the mails led this Court to embrace Justice Holmes' statement that "`[t]he United States may give up the Post Office when it sees fit, but while it carries it on the use of the mails is as much a part of free speech as the right to use our tongues . . . .'" Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301, 305 (1965), quoting United States ex rel. Milwaukee Social Democratic Pub. Co. v. Burleson, 255 U.S. 407, 437 (1921) (Holmes, J., dissenting). Given its pervasive and traditional use as purveyor of written communication, the Postal Service, I believe, may properly be viewed as a public forum. The Court relies on easily distinguishable cases in reaching the contrary conclusion. For the Postal Service's very purpose is to facilitate communication, which surely differentiates it from the military bases, jails, and mass transportation discussed in cases relied on by the Court, ante, at 129-130.
The inquiry in our public forum cases has instead asked whether "the manner of expression is basically incompatible
Reluctance to treat the letterboxes as public forums might stem not from the Postal Service's approval of their form but instead from the fact that their ownership and use remain in the hands of private individuals.
I remain troubled by the Court's effort to transform the letterboxes entirely into components of the governmental enterprise despite their private ownership. Under the Court's reasoning, the Postal Service could decline to deliver mail unless the recipients agreed to open their doors to the letter carrier—and then the doorway, or even the room inside could fall within Postal Service control.
JUSTICE STEVENS, dissenting.
JUSTICE MARSHALL has persuaded me that this statute is unconstitutional, but I do not subscribe to all of his reasoning. He is surely correct in concluding that content-neutral restrictions on the use of private letterboxes do not automatically comply with the First Amendment simply because such boxes are a part of the Postal Service. Like libraries and schools, once these facilities have come into existence, the Government's regulation of them must comply with the Constitution. See ante, at 151, n. 10. I cannot, however, accept the proposition that these private receptacles are the functional equivalent of public fora.
My disagreement with the Court and with JUSTICE MARSHALL can best be illustrated by looking at this case from the point of view of the owner of the mailbox. The mailbox is private property; it is not a public forum to which the owner must grant access. If the owner does not want to receive any written communications other than stamped mail, he should be permitted to post the equivalent of a "no trespassing" sign on his mailbox. A statute that protects his privacy by prohibiting unsolicited and unwanted deposits on his property would surely be valid. The Court, however, upholds a statute that interferes with the owner's receipt of information that he may want to receive. If the owner welcomes messages from his neighbors, from the local community organization, or even from the newly arrived entrepreneur passing out free coupons, it is presumptively unreasonable to interfere with his ability to receive such communications. The nationwide criminal statute at issue here deprives millions of homeowners of the legal right to make a simple decision affecting their ability to receive communications from others.
If a private party—by using volunteer workers or by operating more efficiently—can deliver written communications for less than the cost of postage, the public interest would be well served by transferring that portion of the mail delivery business out of the public domain. I see no reason to prohibit competition simply to prevent any reduction in the size of a subsidized monopoly. In my opinion, that purpose cannot justify any restriction on the interests in free communication that are protected by the First Amendment.
To the extent that the statute aids in the prevention of theft, that incidental benefit was not a factor that motivated Congress.
Mailboxes cluttered with large quantities of written matter would impede the efficient performance of the mail carrier's duties. Sorting through papers for mail to be picked up or having no space in which to leave mail that should be delivered can unquestionably consume valuable time. Without the statute that has been in place for decades, what may now appear to be merely a minor or occasional problem might grow like the proverbial beanstalk. Rather than take that risk, Congress has decided that the wiser course is a total prohibition that will protect the free flow of mail.
But as JUSTICE MARSHALL has noted, the problem is susceptible of a much less drastic solution. See ante, at 146, n. 3. There are probably many overstuffed mailboxes now—and if this statute were repealed there would be many more—but the record indicates that the relatively empty boxes far outnumber the crowded ones. If the statute allowed the homeowner to decide whether or not to receive unstamped communications—and to have his option plainly indicated on the exterior of the mailbox—a simple requirement that overstuffed boxes be replaced with larger ones should provide the answer to most of the Government's concern.
Finally, we should not ignore the fact that nobody has ever been convicted of violating this middle-aged nationwide statute. It must have been violated literally millions of times. Apparently the threat of enforcement has enabled the Government to collect some postage from time to time or to cause a few violators to discontinue their unlawful practices, but I have the impression that the general public is at best only dimly aware of the law and that numerous otherwise lawabiding citizens regularly violate it with impunity. This impression supports the conclusion that the statute is indeed much broader than is necessary to serve its limited purpose. Because, as JUSTICE MARSHALL has demonstrated, it does unquestionably abridge the free exchange of written expression. I agree with his conclusion that it violates the First Amendment.
I respectfully dissent.
"The Government might, of course, decline altogether to distribute newspapers; or it might decline to carry any at less than the cost of service; and it would not thereby abridge the freedom of the press, since to all papers other means of transportation would be left open." Id., at 431.
It seems to us that is just what the Postal Service here has done: it has by no means declined to distribute the leaflets which appellees seek to have deposited in mailboxes, but has simply insisted that the appellees pay the same postage that any other circular in its class would have to bear. Thus, neither the dissent of Justice Brandeis nor of Justice Holmes in Burleson supports JUSTICE BRENNAN'S position.
JUSTICE BRENNAN'S analysis assumes that simply because an instrumentality "is used for the communication of ideas or information," it thereby becomes a public forum. Our cases provide no support for such a sweeping proposition. Certainly, a bulletin board in a cafeteria at Fort Dix is "specifically used for the communication of information and ideas," but such a bulletin board is no more a "public forum" than are the street corners and parking lots found not to be so at the same military base. Greer v. Spock, 424 U.S. 828 (1976). Likewise, the advertising space made available in public transportation in the city of Shaker Heights is "specifically used for the communication of information and ideas," but that fact alone was not sufficient to transform that space into a "public forum" for First Amendment purposes. Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights, 418 U.S. 298 (1974). In fact, JUSTICE BLACKMUN recognized in Lehman that:
"Were we to hold to the contrary, display cases in public hospitals, libraries, office buildings, military compounds, and other public facilities immediately would become Hyde Parks open to every would-be pamphleteer and politician. This the Constitution does not require." Id., at 304.
For the reasons we have stated at length in our opinion, we think the appellees' First Amendment activities are wholly incompatible with the maintenance of a nationwide system for the safe and efficient delivery of mail. The history of the postal system and the role the letterbox serves within that system supports this conclusion, and even JUSTICE BRENNAN acknowledges that a "significant governmental interest" is advanced by the restriction imposed by § 1725. Post, at 135.
Even JUSTICE MARSHALL'S dissent recognizes that the Government may defend the regulation here on a ground other than simply a "time, place, and manner" basis. For example, he says in dissent, post, at 143: "The question, then, is whether this statute burdens any First Amendment rights enjoyed by appellees. If so, it must be determined whether this burden is justified by a significant governmental interest substantially advanced by the statute." We think § 1725 satisfies even the test articulated by JUSTICE MARSHALL.
As for protection of mail revenues, it is significant that the District Court found the cost of using the mails prohibitive, given appellees' budgets, and the delays in mail delivery too great to make it useful for appellees' needs. 490 F. Supp., at 160. Apparently, appellees' compliance with 18 U. S. C. § 1725 would not increase mail revenues. Although protection of the Postal Service obviously must take the form of national regulation, having broad application, a statute's nondiscriminatory terms may not save it where infringement of speech is demonstrated. Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105, 115 (1943).
In Greer v. Spock, 424 U.S. 828, 838 (1976), the Court concluded that Fort Dix was not a public forum due to its military purpose and the power of "'the commanding officer summarily to exclude civilians from the area of his command'" (quoting Cafeteria Workers v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886, 893 (1961)). At the same time, the Court emphasized that political campaign literature could still be distributed at the base unless it posed a clear danger to troop discipline and loyalty, 424 U. S., at 840. Thus, the base remained a "public forum" at least for written communication. A plurality of the Court in Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights, 418 U.S. 298, 303-304 (1974), found the city transit system not a public forum because its advertising space was incidental to its primary commercial transportation purpose. The plurality nevertheless recognized that the state action present necessitated a balancing analysis of the First Amendment interests of those seeking advertising space and the interests of the government and the users of the transit system. Further, both the plurality and Justice Douglas, in his separate opinion concurring in the result, relied on an analogy to the mass media which has no obligation under the First Amendment to broadcast or print any particular story or advertisement. Id., at 303 (opinion of BLACKMUN, J.); id., at 306 (opinion of Douglas, J.). In contrast, the Postal Service is obliged to accept all mailable matter. Finally, in Adderley v. Florida, 385 U.S. 39 (1966), the security needs of the jail were critical to the Court's conclusion that trespassers on the jail grounds could properly be prosecuted. Adderley itself noted that spaces more traditionally used by the public would more likely be public forums, id., at 41-42, and this treatment is appropriate here, given the traditional public use of the Postal Service. The determinative question in each of these cases was not whether the government owned or controlled the property, but whether the nature of the governmental interests warranted the restrictions on expression. That is the question properly asked in this case.