Frisby v. Schultz Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Appellees, Sandra Schultz and Robert Braun (Appellees), challenge a Brookfield, Wisconsin ordinance that prohibits picketing in front of residences in the town. In their challenge, the Appellees claim that the ordinance unconstitutionally restricts their right to free speech. In district court they were granted an injunction, which was upheld by the Court of Appeals. The Appellant, the City of Brookfield (Appellant) appeals to the United States Supreme Court (Supreme Court).

Facts of the case

“Sandra Schultz and Robert Braun both strongly opposed abortion and gathered like-minded citizens together to picket in front of the home of a local doctor who performed abortions. In response, the city of Brookfield, Wisconsin passed a law against all picketing in front of residential homes except for labor disputes. Following the advice of the town attorney, the city amended the law to ban labor picketing as well. The stated purpose of the law was “”the protection and preservation of the home.”” When enacted, Schultz and Braun stopped picketing and filed suit in federal district court, claiming that the law violated the First Amendment. The court declared it would issue a permanent injunction against the law unless it was narrowed in scope. The United States Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit affirmed that the law violated the First Amendment.”

Question

Is the Appellant town ordinance, which restricts picketing in residential neighborhoods narrowly tailored to serve the government’s substantial interest in banning it?

Answer

Yes. On its face the Appellant town ordinance is narrowly tailored to protect only unwilling recipients of the communications. This ordinance targets and eliminates no more than the exact source of the evil it seeks to remedy. The devastating effect of targeted picketing on the quiet enjoyment of the home is beyond doubt and thus deterring such conduct is a legitimate government interest. Furthermore, this ordinance is content neutral and does not seek to limit the flow of ideas, just a certain conduct regardless of content. The First Amendment of the Constitution permits the government to prohibit offensive speech as intrusive when the captive audience cannot avoid the objectionable speech. The target of the focused picketing, banned by the ordinance is just such a captive, figuratively, and sometimes literally trapped into their home by the protesters. These individuals who object to the speech have no means of avoiding this unwanted speech. The Brookfield ordinance ban of th
is particular medium of expression is therefore narrowly tailored and therefore a constitutional restriction of First Amendment rights of free speech.

Conclusion

“As is evidenced by its text, the ordinance serves the significant government interest of protecting residential privacy. An important aspect of such privacy is the protection of unwilling listeners within their homes from the intrusion of objectionable or unwanted speech. Moreover, the ordinance is narrowly tailored to serve that governmental interest, since, although its ban is complete, it targets and eliminates no more than the exact source of the “”evil”” it seeks to remedy: offensive and disturbing picketing focused on a “”captive”” home audience. It does not prohibit more generally directed means of public communication that may not be completely banned in residential areas.”

  • Case Brief: 1988
  • Petitioner: Russell Frisby et al.
  • Respondent: Sandra Schultz et al.
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 487 US 474 (1988)
Argued: Apr 20, 1988
Decided: Jun 27, 1988