SCOTUS: Can private companies be public forums?

The Supreme Court of the United States has decided to hear Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck. At issue in that case is:

(1) Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals in the 2nd Circuit erred in rejecting the Supreme Court’s state actor tests and instead creating a per se rule that private operators of public access channels are state actors subject to constitutional liability; and (2) whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit erred in holding—contrary to the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 6th and District of Columbia Circuits—that private entities operating public access television stations are state actors for constitutional purposes where the state has no control over the private entity’s board or operations.

In lay terms, the case will determine whether a private company (in this case an owner of a public access television channel) can be sued for violations of the First Amendment, or as Amy Howe from SCOTUSBlog put it, “can private property be a public forum?”

This case can have a very significant impact on our cause. When put into a more relevant context; can a private website, like Facebook or Twitter, which is used as a forum for politicians to communicate, censor or ban users?

If it’s determined that sites like Facebook or Nextdoor, for example, are tantamount to the modern-day “public square” – banning individuals would be unconstitutional.

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