Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether a local ordinance may constitutionally permit a government administrator to vary the fee charged for a parade permit to reflect the estimated cost of maintaining public order during the parade.

Action

Affirmed. The ordinance was struck down as being unconstitutional on its face.

Facts/Syllabus

After several violent confrontations between civil rights marchers and local residents in rural Georgia, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners enacted an ordinance that permitted the county administrator to adjust the fee charged for a parade permit, up to a maximum of $1,000, to reflect the estimated cost of maintaining public order during the parade. In January 1989, The Nationalist Movement applied for a permit to demonstrate in opposition to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. The county charged a $100 fee that did not include any calculation for expenses incurred by law enforcement authorities, but was based solely on the value of the administrator’s time in issuing the permit. The Movement challenged the fee in federal court. The federal district court rejected the challenge. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the arbitrary fee violated the 1st Amendment.

Importance of Case

The court held that the ordinance was unconstitutional on its face because it provided unbridled discretion to the administrator to assess fees based in part on the content of the group’s speech. The ordinance could not stand without “narrowly drawn, reasonable and definite standards” to guide the administrator, which this ordinance lacked.

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