Amdt1.2.2.1 Procedural Matters and Freedom of Speech: Overbreadth

First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

But, even in a First Amendment situation, the Court has written, there are substantial social costs created by the overbreadth doctrine when it blocks application of a law to constitutionally unprotected speech, or especially to constitutionally unprotected conduct. To ensure that these costs do now swallow the social benefits of declaring a law ‘overbroad,’ we have insisted that a law’s application to protected speech be ‘substantial,’ not only in an absolute sense, but also relative to the scope of the law’s plainly legitimate applications, before applying the 'strong medicine' of overbreadth invalidation. . . . Rarely, if ever, will an overbreadth challenge succeed against a law or regulation that is not specifically addressed to speech or to conduct necessarily associated with speech (such as picketing or demonstrating).1

Footnotes

  1.  Jump to essay-1Virginia v. Hicks, 539 U.S. 113, 119–20, 124 (2003) (italics in original; citations omitted) (upholding, as not addressed to speech, an ordinance banning from streets within a low-income housing development any person who is not a resident or employee and who cannot demonstrate a legitimate business or social purpose for being on the premises). Virginia v. Hicks cited Broadrick v. Oklahoma, 413 U.S. 601 (1973), which, in the majority opinion and in Justice Brennan's dissent, id. at 621, contains extensive discussion of the overbreadth doctrine. Other restrictive decisions include Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134, 158–64 (1974); Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 757–61 (1974); and New York v. Ferber, 458 U.S. 747, 766–74 (1982). Nonetheless, the doctrine continues to be used across a wide spectrum of First Amendment cases. Bigelow v. Virginia, 421 U.S. 809, 815–18 (1975); Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, 422 U.S. 205 (1975); Doran v. Salem Inn, 422 U.S. 922, 932–34 (1975); Village of Schaumburg v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 444 U.S. 620, 633–39 (1980); Secretary of State of Maryland v. Joseph H. Munson Co., 467 U.S. 947 (1984) (charitable solicitation statute placing 25 percent cap on fundraising expenditures); City of Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451 (1987) (city ordinance making it unlawful to oppose, molest, abuse, or interrupt police officer in performance of duty); Board of Airport Comm'rs v. Jews for Jesus, 482 U.S. 569 (1987) (resolution banning all First Amendment activities at airport); Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844, 874–879 (1997) (statute banning indecent material on the Internet).