June 17, 2019
Decided June 17, 2019
Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, No. 17-1702
Today, the Supreme Court held 5-4 that private operators of public access television channels are not state actors subject to the First Amendment.
The First Amendment generally restricts only state action. Private entities, however, may be treated as state actors in some circumstances, such as where they perform functions traditionally performed by the government alone. Here, New York City designated Manhattan Neighborhood Network (“MNN”)—a private, independent non-profit corporation—to operate public access television channels in Manhattan. After Respondents produced a video criticizing MNN, MNN banned the video, and prohibited Respondents from submitting content to MNN. Respondents sued MNN and others under the First Amendment. The Second Circuit held that public access channels are public speech forums protected by the First Amendment, and that MNN—as the entity selected by the City to administer those channels—is a state actor, even though it is not controlled or funded by the government.
Does a private entity that operates public access channels qualify as a state actor subject to the First Amendment?
No. Private operators of public access channels are not state actors subject to the First Amendment because the operation of public access channels on a cable system is not a function traditionally reserved exclusively to the government.
“[M]erely hosting speech by others is not a traditional, exclusive public function and does not alone transform private entities into state actors subject to First Amendment constraints.”
Justice Kavanaugh, writing for the majority
What It Means:
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