Curbing acts at airports, justices allow ban on asking for money

June 27, 1992|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau Staff writer Peter Jensen also contributed to this story.

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court, giving the government broad power to control fund raising, speechmaking or leafletting on its property, ruled 5-4 yesterday that that power may be used to ban all money solicitors from airport passenger terminals.

While allowing a total ban on fund-solicitation in government-run terminals, the court, by a separate vote of 5-4, said the government must be more careful as it moves to curb speechmaking or leafletting at airports. It may not ban all such activity, according to that part of the decision.

After releasing that and other rulings yesterday, the court said it

would end its current term Monday, thus indicating that it will act then on the biggest controversy yet before it: the constitutionality of an anti-abortion law in Pennsylvania, and the Bush administration's plea to overrule Roe vs. Wade -- the basic abortion decision.

In one of yesterday's other decisions, in a dispute between two Mexican fast-food restaurant chains in Texas, the court declared unanimously that it is illegal under federal trademark law for one restaurant to copy the distinctive design and appearance of another.

And, in a third decision, the justices ruled unanimously that the U.S. government does not have to recount the 1990 Census and does not have to redistribute the seats already allocated to states in the wake

of the census.

The court's ruling on First Amendment rights in airports and other government property emerged as an often confusing compromise, splitting the justices in a variety of ways so that the actual results of the decision had to be pieced together from five separate opinions and a one-page, unsigned order.

It appeared that a series of future test cases would be necessary to spell out the practical impact of the new decision, which came in a case involving solicitation of money and distribution of religious tracts by the Hare Krishna movement at the three Port Authority airports in the metropolitan New York City area -- Newark International, Kennedy International and LaGuardia.

The ruling will have no discernible impact on Baltimore-Washington International Airport, according to a spokeswoman. The state-operated facility already bans solicitation of any kind and permits non-profit organizations to hand out literature.

There clearly were five distinct votes on the court yesterday for a broad rewriting of the court's constitutional approach to "expressive activity" on property that the government owns or operates.

The five justices in the majority said that if public property has not been open traditionally for expression -- as sidewalks, streets and parks have been -- it will be considered open for that kind of activity only if the government decides to allow it.

Those justices concluded that government-owned or operated airport terminals are not "public forums." Those same justices said all fund raising may be banned outright as incompatible with the normal functions of the passenger corridors.

That result was supported by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Byron R. White.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy voted to allow some curbs on fund raising in terminals, but not a total ban.

Justices Harry A. Blackmun, David H. Souter and John Paul Stevens dissented on the fund raising, saying they would not allow a total ban on begging for money in terminals.

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