The justices met today for their private conference – their first with the Supreme Court’s newest member, Justice Brett Kavanaugh. They announced only one new grant from that conference this afternoon, in a relatively low-profile but potentially significant case.
In Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, the justices agreed to review a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that the private operator of a public-access television channel is a “state actor” – that is, someone who is acting on behalf of the government — who can therefore be sued for violations of the First Amendment. The lower court’s decision, a “friend of the court” brief supporting the television channel told the justices, not only “threatens the viability” of “public-access channel operators around the country,” but it also raises a broader question: whether private property can be a public forum, a place traditionally open for public speech and debate, where the protections of the First Amendment are the strongest. And that question, says the Chicago Access Corporation, a foundation that runs public-access TV channels in that city, has become an important one lately, “as courts are increasingly being asked to consider whether privately owned internet platforms like Twitter and Facebook can ever be public forums.”
The justices did not act on several high-profile cases that they were scheduled to consider at today’s conference, including two petitions arising from a challenge to a 93-year-old cross on public land in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and a challenge to mandatory bar dues for lawyers. We expect the court to issue another set of orders from today’s conference on Monday, October 15, at 9:30 a.m.
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.