Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights

PETITIONER: Harry Lehman
RESPONDENT: City of Shaker Heights
LOCATION: City of Shaker Heights

DOCKET NO.: 73-328
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: Ohio Supreme Court

CITATION: 418 US 298 (1974)
ARGUED: Feb 26, 1974 / Feb 27, 1974
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1974

ADVOCATES:
Leonard J. Schwartz - argued the cause for the petitioner
Paul R. Donaldson - argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

Harry Lehman was running for the Ohio House of Representatives in the 56th District, which included the city of Shaker Heights. Lehman wanted to have his campaign advertisements placed on the side of Shaker Heights' streetcars. Metromedia, Inc. was designated by the city to manage that advertising space. Metromedia's contract with the city prohibited it from placing political advertisements on the streetcars. It was allowed, however, to place advertisements from businesses and public service groups. Lehman's request was denied, and he sued in the Ohio Court of Appeals for Cuyahoga County alleging that Shaker Heights' policy violated his free speech rights. The Ohio Court of Appeals ruled for the city. The Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed the decision.

Question

Did Shaker Heights' policy against political advertising on its streetcars violate the free speech clause of the First Amendment?

Media for Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 26, 1974 in Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 27, 1974 in Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 25, 1974 in Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights

Warren E. Burger:

The disposition of Number 73-328, Lehman against the City of Shaker Heights, will be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

This case comes to us by certiorari from the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio.

It involves basically the right of a candidate for political office to command advertising space in car cards on vehicles of public transportation.

The petitioner, who was a candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives, was refused available advertising space on the transit system of the City of Shaker Heights, a Cleveland suburb.

He brought this suit, challenging the constitutionality of the municipal policy which refuse political advertising but did allow other types of public transit advertising.

The state courts declined to give the petitioner relief and the Ohio Supreme Court, by a four-to-three vote, held specifically that the city’s refusal did not violate a candidate's free speech or equal protection rights.

We affirm that judgment.

I have filed a plurality opinion, joined by the Chief justice, Mr. Justice White and Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

We conclude that car card space is a not a First Amendment forum and that a city may exercise some discretion with respect to the type of advertising that may be displayed in its vehicles.

We also conclude that here the decision to limit these transit advertisements to innocuous and less controversial commercial and service-oriented advertising serves to minimize chances of abuse or the appearance of political favoritism and the risk of imposing upon a captive audience, and that this involve no First or Fourteenth Amendment violation.

The opinion as I have noted is a plurality one only but not a majority opinion.

Mr. Justice Douglas has filed a separate opinion concluding that the petitioner, although free to express his views to a willing audience, has no constitutional right to force his message upon a captive audience which uses public transit vehicles as a means of transport, not as a place for discussion.

Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion and he is joined in that opinion by Mr. Justice Stewart, Mr. Justice Marshall and Mr. Justice Powell.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Blackmun.