Time, Place, and Manner Restrictions

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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Limits that government can impose on the occasion, location, and type of individual expression in some circumstances.

The FIRST AMENDMENT to the U.S. Constitution guarantees FREEDOM OF SPEECH. This guarantee generally safeguards the right of individuals to express themselves without governmental restraint. Nevertheless, the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment is not absolute. It has never been interpreted to guarantee all forms of speech without any restraint whatsoever. Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that state and federal governments may place reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of individual expression. Time, place, and manner (TPM) restrictions accommodate public convenience and promote order by regulating traffic flow, preserving property interests, conserving the environment, and protecting the administration of justice.

The Supreme Court has developed a four-part analysis to evaluate the constitutionality of TPM restrictions. To pass muster under the First Amendment, TPM restrictions must be contentneutral, be narrowly drawn, serve a significant government interest, and leave open alternative channels of communication. Application of this analysis varies in accordance with the circumstances of each case.

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The rationale supporting a particular TPM restriction may receive less rigorous scrutiny when the government seeks to regulate speech of lower value such as OBSCENITY and fighting words. Obscene speech includes most hard-core PORNOGRAPHY, while fighting words include offensive speech that would incite a reasonable person to violence. Conversely, the government must offer "compelling" reasons for regulating highly valued forms of expression, such as political speech. Some speech, such as commercial advertisements, is valued less than political speech but more than obscenity or fighting words. The government may impose reasonable TPM restrictions on this intermediate category of speech only if it can advance a "significant" or "important" reason for doing so.

Time restrictions regulate when individuals may express themselves. At certain times of the day, the government may curtail or prohibit speech to address legitimate societal concerns, such as traffic congestion and crowd control. For example, political protesters may seek to demonstrate in densely populated cities to draw maximum attention to their cause. The First Amendment permits protesters to take such action, but not whenever they choose. The Supreme Court has held on more than one occasion that no one may "insist upon a street meeting in the middle of Times Square at the rush hour as a form of freedom of speech" (Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536, 85 S. Ct. 453, 13 L. Ed. 2d 471 [1965]). In most instances a commuter's interest in getting to and from work...

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