Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence

RESPONDENT: Community for Creative Non-Violence

DOCKET NO.: 82-1998
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 468 US 288 (1984)
ARGUED: Mar 21, 1984
DECIDED: Jun 29, 1984

Burt Neuborne - Argued the cause for the respondents
Paul M. Bator - Argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

In 1982, the National Park Service issued a renewable permit to the Community for Creative Non-Violence to conduct a demonstration in Lafayette Park and the Mall in Washington, D.C. The C.C.N.V. demonstration was intended to represent the plight of the homeless, and the demonstrators wished to sleep in tent cities set up in the park. Citing anti-camping regulations, the Park Service denied the request.


Did the National Park Service regulations violate the First Amendment by curtailing symbolic speech?

Media for Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 1984 in Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence

Warren E. Burger:

Now we will hear arguments this morning in Clark against Community for Creative Non-Violence.

Mr. Bator.

Paul M. Bator:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case involves the use and the regulation of Lafayette Park and the Mall.

I need hardly belabor the point, therefore, that this case is about places that are very, very special, places that mean something to every American and that really do belong to every American.

They are places that are intensely used for all kinds of activities.

They are very grand and beautiful, and thousands come in a spirit of awe and reverence.

But it's also the case that thousands come just to jog and to picnic and to play softball.

These places are also much used, and fittingly used, for political demonstrations.

They are intensely used for that purpose.

The Park Service statistics indicate that somewhere between 900 and 1,000 permits are sought a year for special events and demonstrations in the memorial core area.

So that on any given day there will be an average of three or so demonstrations going on.

The case is fundamentally about what sorts of parks these are to be.

The specific question in the case is whether the National Park Service has the authority to enforce a flat general rule that provides that nobody may spend the night camping in Lafayette Park and the Mall.

You may not use these places as overnight sleeping accommodations.

Respondents are here arguing that the Constitution gives them the constitutional right to use these places as overnight sleeping accommodations.

They say that the use of these parks overnight for sleep is speech within the meaning of the First Amendment.

The regulation involved in the case is not in terms directed at speech.

It does not on its face even have the effect of limiting expression.

The regulation simply prohibits camping, and camping is defined in the common sense way of use of the parks for living accommodation purposes, including the constituent activity of sleeping overnight in tents.

Now, Respondents asked for a permit to conduct a demonstration in Lafayette Park and the Mall.

It's common ground that the purpose of the demonstration was sincere, important and serious, to demonstrate the tragic plight of homeless people.

To do this, the Respondents sought a permit to erect 60 tents in Lafayette Park and the Mall, and there would be 150 people demonstrating there for a period of three months, during which the 150 people would be spending the nights asleep in tents in Lafayette Park and the Mall.

The Park Service granted the Respondents a wide-ranging permit to demonstrate.

Nobody tried to prevent the Respondents from exercising their right to speak, to assemble, to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Respondents were told they could come to Lafayette Park, they could speak in every normal sense of that term as freely as they wished, they could maintain a continuous round-the-clock presence, maintain an all-night vigil.

They could assemble and parade and leaflet.

They could use symbols and signs.

They could even erect symbolic structures and tents in order to convey the message of homelessness.

But they were also told that they may not use the park overnight to sleep, and this lawsuit tests the validity of that application of the regulations.