Justices Take Up Public-Access First Amendment Case

(CN) – The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to review a 2nd Circuit ruling involving the application of the First Amendment to the private operator of a public-access television channel.

Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck stems from a dispute that arose between two producers and the Manhattan Neighborhood Network, which is owned by the Manhattan Community Access Corp., a private nonprofit.

According to the cert petition, the network yanked a video made by the producers, saying it contained language that was harassing and threatening to its staff, and the producers sued.

The network sought dismissal of the case on the grounds that it was immune from the producers’ constitutional claims.

In its decision, the 2nd Circuit concluded that the private operator of a public-access television channel is effectively working as a state entity, and therefore can be sued for violations of the First Amendment.

This ruling, court documents filed on behalf of the station say, threatens the viability of public-access channel operators around the country. It also raises the broader question of whether private property can be a public forum.

As is their custom, the justices did not explain their rationale for taking up the case.

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