Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether a governmental entity may constitutionally prohibit the distribution of literature and the solicitation of contributions in airport terminals.


A slim 5-4 majority of the Court held that the airport terminals were nonpublic forums. A different 5-4 majority concluded that the Port Authority could not ban the distribution of literature because the ban was unreasonable in light of the slight inconvenience caused by such distribution. The Court voted 6-3 to uphold the ban on solicitation, finding that the prohibition was necessary to minimize the risk of fraud and duress that accompanies in-person solicitation.


The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates the Kennedy, La Guardia, and Newark airports, adopted regulations prohibiting persons or groups from soliciting money or distributing literature within the terminals. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is a not-for-profit religious corporation whose members perform a ritual known as sankirtan, which consists of going into public places, disseminating literature, and soliciting funds to support the religion. The Society challenged the Port Authority's regulations on the grounds that the regulations deprived the Society's members of their free speech rights under the First Amendment. The trial court ruled in favor of the Society, holding that the airports were public forums and that the regulations were too broad. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the airports were not public forums and that the ban on solicitations was reasonable. The Court of Appeals, however, affirmed the trial court's ruling that the ban on distributing literature violated the First Amendment.

Importance of Case

This majority reasoned that airport terminals have not traditionally been devoted to assembly and debate. This majority also relied heavily on the fact that the government did not intend for airport terminals to become places for free expression. The Justices dissenting on this issue argued that whether property is a public forum should be determined by its actual physical characteristics and not by the government's defined purpose for the property.

Cite this page