Virginia v. Hicks

PETITIONER: Virginia
RESPONDENT: Kevin Lamont Hicks
LOCATION: 1220 Student Activities Building - Undergraduate Admissions

DOCKET NO.: 02-371
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Virginia

CITATION: 539 US 113 (2003)
ARGUED: Apr 30, 2003
DECIDED: Jun 16, 2003

ADVOCATES:
Michael R. Dreeben - Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the petitioner
Steven D. Benjamin - for the respondent
William H. Hurd - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA), a political subdivision of Virginia, owns and operates Whitcomb Court, a low-income housing development. In 1997, the Richmond City Council conveyed Whitcomb Court's streets to the RRHA. Subsequently, the RRHA enacted a policy authorizing the Richmond police to serve notice on any person lacking "a legitimate business or social purpose" for being on the premises and to arrest for trespassing any person who remains or returns after having been notified. After the RRHA gave Kevin Hicks, a nonresident, written notice barring him from Whitcomb Court, he trespassed there and was arrested and convicted. At trial, Hicks claimed that RRHA's policy was unconstitutionally overbroad and void for vagueness. The Virginia en banc Court of Appeals vacated his conviction. In affirming, the Virginia Supreme Court found the policy unconstitutionally overbroad in violation of the First Amendment.

Question

Is the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority's trespass policy, which provides for arrest after being served notice for being on the premises without "a legitimate business or social purpose," facially invalid under the First Amendment's overbreadth doctrine?

Media for Virginia v. Hicks

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 30, 2003 in Virginia v. Hicks

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 16, 2003 in Virginia v. Hicks

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 02-371, Virginia against Hicks will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which I will refer to as RRHA, is a political subdivision of the commonwealth of Virginia.

It owns and operates Whitcomb Court, a low-income housing development.

In 1997, the Richmond City Council conveyed Whitcomb Court's streets to the RRHA in an effort to combat crime and drug dealing by nonresidents.

In accordance with the terms of the conveyance, the RRHA enacted a policy authorizing the Richmond police to serve a trespass notice on any person who is on the premises without a "legitimate business or social purpose", and to arrest for trespassing any person who after receiving that notice remains or later returns.

The RRHA gave respondent, Hicks, a nonresident, written notice barring him from Whitcomb Court.

Subsequently, he trespassed there and was arrested and convicted.

At trial, he claimed among other things that the RRHA's policy was unconstitutionally overbroad.

The Virginia Court of Appeals vacated his conviction.

In affirming, the Virginia Supreme Court found the policy unconstitutionally overbroad in violation of the First Amendment, because an unwritten rule that leafletting and demonstrating requires advanced permission from the manager of Whitcomb Court, vested too much discretion in that manager.

We conclude that the RRHA's Trespass Policy is not facially invalid under the First Amendment's overbreadth doctrine and we therefore reverse.

Under the overbreadth doctrine, a showing that a law punishes a substantial amount of protected free speech in relation to its plainly legitimate sweep, that is quote from our cases, suffices to invalidate all enforcement of that law unless and until a limiting construction or partial invalidation so narrows the law as to remove the seeming threat or deterrence to constitutionally protected expression.

Only substantial overbreadth supports such facial invalidation since there are significant social costs in blocking a law's application to constitutionally unprotected conducted.

Even assuming the invalidity of the unwritten rule here for leafletters and demonstrators, Hicks has not shown that the RRHA policy prohibits a substantial amount of protected speech in relation to its many legitimate applications.

Both the notice-barment rule and the 'legitimate business or social purpose' rule apply to all persons entering Whitcomb Court streets, not just to those who seek to engage in expression."

Neither the basis for the barment sanction namely a prior trespass, nor the purpose of a barment sanction preventing future trespassers implicates the First Amendment.

An overbreadth challenge rarely succeeds against a law or regulation such as this which is not specifically addressed to speech or to conduct necessarily associated with speech.

Any applications of the RRHA's policy that violate the First Amendment can be remedied through case by case as applied litigation rather than by invalidating the entire law whenever and whereever it is applied.

We leave open on remand an issue raised by Hicks but not addressed by the Supreme Court of Virginia namely whethere the provisions of the RRHA trespass policy are unconstitutionally vague.

The court's decision is unanimous.

Justice Souter has filed a concurring opinion joined by Justice Breyer.