Lebron v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation

RESPONDENT:National Railroad Passenger Corporation
LOCATION:Phoenix Police Department

DOCKET NO.: 93-1525
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 513 US 374 (1994)
ARGUED: Nov 07, 1994
DECIDED: Feb 21, 1995

David D. Cole – on behalf of the Petitioner
Kevin T. Baine – on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Lebron v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 07, 1994 in Lebron v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 21, 1995 in Lebron v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court number 93-1525 Lebron versus National Railroad Passenger Corporation will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

This case comes to us on certiorari from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Petitioner Lebron creates billboard displays that comment on public issues.

He claimed in this lawsuit that respondent the National Railroad Passenger Corporation commonly known as Amtrak had violated his First Amendment rights by rejecting because of its political nature, an advertisement, which he had proposed to place on a giant billboard in Amtrak’s Pennsylvania station in New York City.

The billboard was critical of the Coors Brewing Company for supporting conservative causes in particular the Contras in Nicaragua, and Amtrak said it was contrary to its policy to accept political advertisement.

The District Court rule that Amtrak was bound by the First Amendment that it was a Government Actor for First Amendment purposes because of its close ties with the Federal Government.

The Second Circuit reversed noting that Amtrak was by the terms of the legislation that had created it not the government entity and concluding that the government was not so involved with Amtrak that Amtrak’s decisions could be considered federal action.

We reverse the Court of Appeals, Congress created Amtrak by the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 in order to avert the threatened extinction of passenger trains in the United States.

That legislation established Amtrak as a District of Columbia Corporation and set congressional goals for Amtrak to achieve.

Eight of Amtrak’s nine Directors are appointed by the President of the United States or the Secretary of Transportation.

The ninth, the President of the Corporation is elected by those other eight.

Amtrak must file annual reports concerning its operations with the President and Congress.

The act does provide however that Amtrak will not be an agency or instrumentality of the United States.

Although, that provision is surely dispositive of Amtrak’s governmental status for purposes of matters within Congress is controlled. For example, whether the Freedom Of Information Act applies to Amtrak.

It is not for Congress to make the final determination of Amtrak’s status as a government entity for purposes of determining the constitutional rights of citizens affected by its actions.

The constitution constrains governmental action by whatever instruments or in whatever modes that action maybe taken, and under whatever congressional label.

The Federal government has often used corporations to achieve its governmental ends beginning with the Bank of the United States in 1791.

At the end of World War II the General Accounting Office listed 58 government corporations including such entities as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the Rubber Development Corporation with combined assets in $1945 of 29.6 billion.

The public judicial and congressional understanding over the years has consistently been that such governmentally created and controlled corporations are part of the government itself.

We accordingly hold that whereas here the government creates a corporation by a special law for the furtherance of governmental objectives, and retains for itself permanent authority to appoint a majority of the directors of that Corporation, the Corporation is part of the government for purposes of the First Amendment.

We remand for the Court of Appeals to decide in the first instance, whether Amtrak’s refusal to display petitioner’s advertisement violated the First Amendment.

Justice O’Connor has filed a dissenting opinion.