Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether a park-permit ordinance that provides access to a judicial forum but does not provide for a prompt judicial decision on the merits contains enough procedural safeguards to comport with the First Amendment.


Affirmed (includes modified). Petitioning party did not receive a favorable disposition.


In 1997, Robert MacDonald sought to obtain a permit to hold a political rally in Grant Park in Chicago on behalf of the Ad Hoc Coalition for Drug Law Reform. Park officials denied MacDonald's request in part because they said he had violated the terms of his permit in 1996 for a prior rally. After being denied by the park district's general superintendent, MacDonald sued in federal court. He challenged the constitutionality of the park-permit rules on their face. Among his challenges, MacDonald argued that the ordinance was an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech because it did not contain adequate procedural safeguards. For example, MacDonald argued that the park-permit rules violate the First Amendment because they do not provide for a prompt judicial decision on the merits if a permit applicant appeals a negative decision.

After MacDonald lost at the federal trial court level, he appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. While the case was pending in the 7th Circuit, MacDonald died. The appeals court allowed Caren Cronk Thomas and the Windy City Hemp Development Board Inc. to substitute as the plaintiffs. In 2000, the 7th Circuit rejected the plaintiffs' arguments. The appeals court noted that several federal courts had determined that "judicial review of the denial of a permit must indeed be 'deadlined.' " However, the appeals court panel distinguished those cases, finding that they all involved "special licensing regimes for sexually oriented businesses." The panel reasoned that the speech by those adult businesses needed "greater judicial vigilance" or more protection than the speech at issue in the Chicago park case.

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