18671S.Ct. on Postal Service history & general delivery
- Aug 31 9:19 AM
453 U.S. 114 (1981)
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE
COUNCIL OF GREENBURGH CIVIC ASSOCIATIONS ET AL.
Supreme Court of United States.
Argued April 21, 1981.
Decided June 25, 1981.
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK.
115*115 Edwin S. Kneedler argued the cause for appellant. On the briefs were Solicitor General McCree, Acting Assistant Attorney General Martin, Deputy Solicitor General Geller, Peter Buscemi, William Kanter, and John C. Hoyle.
Jon H. Hammer argued the cause for appellees. With him on the briefs was E. Payson Clark, Jr.[*]
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Adam Yarmolinsky and Stephen T. Owen for Independent Sector et al.; and by John R. Myer, David A. Webster, Virginia S. Taylor, E. Richard Larson, and Bruce J. Ennis for the Piedmont Heights Civil Club, Inc., et al.
JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
We noted probable jurisdiction to decide whether the United States District Court for the Southern District of 116*116 New York correctly determined that 18 U. S. C. § 1725, which prohibits the deposit of unstamped "mailable matter" in a letterbox approved by the United States Postal Service, unconstitutionally abridges the First Amendment rights of certain civic associations in Westchester County, N. Y. 449 U. S. 1076 (1981). Jurisdiction of this Court rests on 28 U. S. C. § 1252.
Appellee Council of Greenburgh Civic Associations (Council) is an umbrella organization for a number of civic groups in Westchester County, N. Y. Appellee Saw Mill Valley Civic Association is one of the Council's member groups. In June 1976, the Postmaster in White Plains, N. Y., notified the Chairman of the Saw Mill Valley Civic Association that the association's practice of delivering messages to local residents by placing unstamped notices and pamphlets in the letterboxes of private homes was in violation of 18 U. S. C. § 1725, which provides:
"Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits any mailable matter such as statements of accounts, circulars, sale bills, or other like matter, on which no postage has been paid, in any letter box established, approved, or accepted by the Postal Service for the receipt or delivery of mail matter on any mail route with intent to avoid payment of lawful postage thereon, shall for each such offense be fined not more than $300."
Saw Mill Valley Civic Association and other Council members were advised that if they continued their practice of placing unstamped notices in the letterboxes of private homes it could result in a fine not to exceed $300.
In February 1977, appellees filed this suit in the District Court for declaratory and injunctive relief from the Postal Service's threatened enforcement of § 1725. Appellees contended that the enforcement of § 1725 would inhibit their 117*117 communication with residents of the town of Greenburgh and would thereby deny them the freedom of speech and freedom of the press secured by the First Amendment.
The District Court initially dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. 448 F. Supp. 159 (SDNY 1978). On appeal, however, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed and remanded the case to the District Court to give the parties "an opportunity to submit proof as to the extent of the handicap to communication caused by enforcement of the statute in the area involved, on the one hand, and the need for the restriction for protection of the mails, on the other." 586 F. 2d 935, 936 (1978). In light of this language, it was not unreasonable for the District Court to conclude that it had been instructed to "try" the statute, much as more traditional issues of fact are tried by a court, and that is what the District Court proceeded to do.
In the proceedings on remand, the Postal Service offered three general justifications for § 1725: (1) that § 1725 protects mail revenues; (2) that it facilitates the efficient and secure delivery of the mails; and (3) that it promotes the privacy of mail patrons. More specifically, the Postal Service argued that elimination of § 1725 could cause the overcrowding of mailboxes due to the deposit of civic association notices. Such overcrowding would in turn constitute an impediment to the delivery of the mails. Testimony was offered that § 1725 aided the investigation of mail theft by restricting access to letterboxes, thereby enabling postal investigators to assume that anyone other than a postal carrier or a householder who opens a mailbox may be engaged in the violation of the law. On this point, a postal inspector testified that 10% of the arrests made under the external mail theft statute, 18 U. S. C. § 1708, resulted from surveillance-type operations which benefit from enforcement of § 1725. Testimony was also introduced that § 1725 has been 118*118 particularly helpful in the investigation of thefts of government benefit checks from letterboxes.
The Postal Service introduced testimony that it would incur additional expense if § 1725 were either eliminated or held to be inapplicable to civic association materials. If delivery in mailboxes were expanded to permit civic association circulars—but not other types of nonmailable matter such as commercial materials—mail carriers would be obliged to remove and examine individual unstamped items found in letterboxes to determine if their deposit there was lawful. Carriers would also be confronted with a larger amount of unstamped mailable matter which they would be obliged to separate from outgoing mail. The extra time resulting from these additional activities. When computed on a nationwide basis, would add substantially to the daily cost of mail delivery.
The final justification offered by the Postal Service for § 1725 was that the statute provided significant protection for the privacy interests of postal customers. Section 1725 provides postal customers the means to send and receive mails without fear of their correspondence becoming known to members of the community.
119*119 The Postal Service also argued at trial that the enforcement of § 1725 left appellees with ample alternative means of delivering their message. The appellees can deliver their messages either by paying postage, by hanging their notices on doorknobs, by placing their notices under doors or under a doormat, by using newspaper or nonpostal boxes affixed to houses or mailbox posts, by telephoning their constituents, by engaging in person-to-person delivery in public areas, by tacking or taping their notices on a door post or letterbox post, or by placing advertisements in local newspapers. A survey was introduced comparing the effectiveness of certain of these alternatives which arguably demonstrated that between 70-75% of the materials placed under doors or doormats or hung from doorknobs were found by the homeowner whereas approximately 82% of the items placed in letterboxes were found. This incidental difference, it was argued, cannot be of constitutional significance.
The District Court found the above arguments of the Postal Service insufficient to sustain the constitutionality of § 1725 at least as applied to these appellees. 490 F. Supp. 157 (1980). Relying on the earlier opinion of the Court of Appeals, the District Court noted that the legal standard it was to apply would give the appellees relief if the curtailment of their interest in free expression resulting from enforcement of § 1725 substantially outweighed the Government's interests in the effective delivery and protection of the mails. The District Court concluded that the appellees had satisfied this standard.
The District Court based its decision on several findings. The court initially concluded that because civic associations generally have small cash reserves and cannot afford the applicable postage rates, mailing of the appellees' message would be financially burdensome. Similarly, because of the relatively slow pace of the mail, use of the mails at certain times would impede the appellees' ability to communicate quickly with their constituents. Given the widespread awareness 120*120 of the high cost and limited celerity of the mails, the court probably could have taken judicial notice of both of these findings.
The court also found that none of the alternative means of delivery suggested by the Postal Service were "nearly as effective as placing civic association flyers in approved mailboxes; so that restriction on the [appellees'] delivery methods to such alternatives also constitutes a serious burden on [appellees'] ability to communicate with their constituents." 490 F. Supp., at 160. Accordingly, the District Court declared § 1725 unconstitutional as applied to appellees and the Council's member associations and enjoined the Postal Service from enforcing it as to them.
The present case is a good example of Justice Holmes' aphorism that "a page of history is worth a volume of logic." 121*121 New York Trust Co. v. Eisner, 256 U. S. 345, 349 (1921). For only by review of the history of the postal system and its present statutory and regulatory scheme can the constitutional challenge to § 1725 be placed in its proper context.
By the early 18th century, the posts were made a sovereign function in almost all nations because they were considered a sovereign necessity. Government without communication is impossible, and until the invention of the telephone and telegraph, the mails were the principal means of communication. Kappel Commission, Toward Postal Excellence, Report of the President's Commission on Postal Organization 47 (Comm. Print 1968). Little progress was made in developing a postal system in Colonial America until the appointment of Benjamin Franklin, formerly Postmaster at Philadelphia, as Deputy Postmaster General for the American Colonies in 1753. In 1775, Franklin was named the first Postmaster General by the Continental Congress, and, because of the trend toward war, the Continental Congress undertook its first serious effort to establish a secure mail delivery organization in order to maintain communication between the States and to supply revenue for the Army. D. Adie, An Evaluation of Postal Service Wage Rates 2 (American Enterprise Institute, 1977).
Given the importance of the post to our early Nation, it is not surprising that when the United States Constitution was ratified in 1789. Art. I, § 8, provided Congress the power "To establish Post Offices and post Roads" and "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper" for executing this task. The Post Office played a vital yet largely unappreciated role in the development of our new Nation. Stagecoach trails which were improved by the Government to become post roads quickly became arteries of commerce. Mail contracts were of great assistance to the early development of new means of transportation such as canals, railroads, and eventually airlines. Kappel Commission. Toward 122*122 Postal Excellence, supra, at 46. During this developing stage, the Post Office was to many citizens situated across the country the most visible symbol of national unity. Ibid.
The growth of postal service over the past 200 years has been remarkable. Annual revenues increased from less than $40 million in 1790 to close to $200 million in 1829 when the Postmaster General first became a member of the Cabinet. However, expenditures began exceeding revenues as early as the 1820's as the postal structure struggled to keep pace with the rapid growth of the country westward. Because of this expansion, delivery costs to the South and West raised average postal costs nationally. To prevent competition from private express services, Congress passed the Postal Act of 1845, which prohibited competition in letter mail and established what is today referred to as the "postal monopoly."
More recently, to deal with the problems of increasing deficits and shortcomings in the overall management and efficiency of the Post Office. Congress passed the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. This Act transformed the Post Office Department into a Government-owned corporation called the United States Postal Service. The Postal Service today is among the largest employers in the world, with a work force nearing 700,000 processing 106.3 billion pieces of mail each year. Ann. Rep. of the Postmaster General 2, 11 (1980). The Postal Service is the Nation's largest user of floor space, and the Nation's largest nonmilitary purchaser of transport, operating more than 200,000 vehicles. Its rural carriers alone travel over 21 million miles each day and its city carriers walk or drive another million miles a day. D. Adie, An Evaluation of Postal Service Wage Rates, supra, at 1. Its operating budget in fiscal 1980 exceeded $17 billion. Ann. Rep. of the Postmaster General, supra, at 2.
Not surprisingly, Congress has established a detailed statutory and regulatory scheme to govern this country's vast postal system. See 39 U. S. C. § 401 et seq. and the Domestic Mail Manual (DMM), which has been incorporated by 123*123 reference in the Code of Federal Regulations, 39 CFR pt. 3 (1980). Under 39 U. S. C. § 403 (a), the Postal Service is directed to "plan, develop, promote, and provide adequate and efficient postal services at fair and reasonable rates and fees." Section 403 (b) (1) similarly directs the Postal Service "to maintain an efficient system of collection, sorting, and delivery of the mail nationwide," and under 39 U. S. C. § 401 the Postal Service is broadly empowered to adopt rules and regulations designed to accomplish the above directives.
Acting under this authority, the Postal Service has provided by regulation that both urban and rural postal customers must provide appropriate mail receptacles meeting detailed specifications concerning size, shape, and dimensions. DMM 155.41, 155.43, 156.311, 156.51, and 156.54. By regulation, the Postal Service has also provided that "[e]very letter box or other receptacle intended or used for the receipt or delivery of mail on any city delivery route, rural delivery route, highway contract route, or other mail route is designated an authorized depository for mail within the meaning of 18 U. S. C. [§] 1725." DMM 151.1. A letterbox provided by a postal customer which meets the Postal Service's specifications not only becomes part of the Postal Service's nationwide system for the receipt and delivery of mail, but is also afforded the protection of the federal statutes prohibiting the damaging or destruction of mail deposited therein. See 18 U. S. C. §§ 1702, 1705, and 1708.
It is not without irony that this elaborate system of regulation, coupled with the historic dependence of the Nation on the Postal Service, has been the causal factor which led to this litigation. For it is because of the very fact that virtually every householder wishes to have a mailing address and a receptacle in which mail sent to that address will be deposited by the Postal Service that the letterbox or other mail receptacle is attractive to those who wish to convey messages within a locality but do not wish to purchase the stamp or pay such other fee as would permit them to be transmitted 124*124 by the Postal Service. To the extent that the "alternative means" eschewed by the appellees and found to be inadequate alternatives by the District Court are in fact so, it is in no small part attributable to the fact that the typical mail patron first looks for written communications from the "outside world" not under his doormat, or inside the screen of his front door, but in his letterbox. Notwithstanding the increasing frequency of complaints about the rising cost of using the Postal Service, and the uncertainty of the time which passes between mailing and delivery, written communication making use of the Postal Service is so much a fact of our daily lives that the mail patron watching for the mail-truck, or the jobholder returning from work looking in his letterbox before he enters his house, are commonplaces of our society. Indeed, according to the appellees the receptacles for mailable matter are so superior to alternative efforts to communicate printed matter that all other alternatives for deposit of such matter are inadequate substitutes for postal letterboxes.
Postal Service regulations, however, provide that letterboxes and other receptacles designated for the delivery of mail "shall be used exclusively for matter which bears postage." DMM 151.2. Section 1725 merely reinforces this 125*125 regulation by prohibiting, under pain of criminal sanctions, the deposit into a letterbox of any mailable matter on which postage has not been paid. The specific prohibition contained in § 1725 is also repeated in the Postal Service regulations at DMM 146.21.
Section 1725 was enacted in 1934 "to curb the practice of depositing statements of account, circulars, sale bills, etc., in letter boxes established and approved by the Postmaster General for the receipt or delivery of mail matter without payment of postage thereon by making this a criminal offense." H. R. Rep. No. 709, 73d Cong., 2d Sess., 1 (1934). Both the Senate and House Committees on Post Offices and Post Roads explained the principal motivation for § 1725 as follows:
"Business concerns, particularly utility companies, have within the last few years adopted the practice of having their circulars, statements of account, etc., delivered by private messenger, and have used as receptacles the letter boxes erected for the purpose of holding mail matter and approved by the Post Office Department for such purpose. This practice is depriving the Post Office Department of considerable revenue on matter which would otherwise go through the mails, and at the same time is resulting in the stuffing of letter boxes with extraneous matter." Ibid.; S. Rep. No. 742, 73d Cong., 2d Sess., 1 (1934).
Nothing in any of the legislation or regulations recited above requires any person to become a postal customer. Anyone is free to live in any part of the country without having letters or packages delivered or received by the Postal Service by simply failing to provide the receptacle for those letters and packages which the statutes and regulations require. Indeed, the provision for "General Delivery" in most post offices enables a person to take advantage of the facilities 126*126 of the Postal Service without ever having provided a receptacle at or near his premises conforming to the regulations of the Postal Service. What the legislation and regulations do require is that those persons who do wish to receive and deposit their mail at their home or business do so under the direction and control of the Postal Service.
As early as the last century, this Court recognized the broad power of Congress to act in matters concerning the posts:
"The power vested in Congress `to establish postoffices and post-roads' has been practically construed, since the foundation of the government, to authorize not merely the designation of the routes over which the mail shall be carried, and the offices where letters and other documents shall be received to be distributed or forwarded, but the carriage of the mail, and all measures necessary to secure its safe and speedy transit, and the prompt delivery of its contents. The validity of legislation describing what should be carried, and its weight and form, and the charges to which it should be subjected, has never been questioned. . . . The power possessed by Congress embraces the regulation of the entire Postal System of the country. The right to designate what shall be carried necessarily involves the right to determine what shall be excluded." Ex parte Jackson, 96 U. S. 727, 732 (1878).
However broad the postal power conferred by Art. I may be, it may not of course be exercised by Congress in a manner that abridges the freedom of speech or of the press protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. In this case we are confronted with the appellees' assertion that the First Amendment guarantees them the right to deposit, without payment of postage, their notices, circulars, and flyers in 127*127 letterboxes which have been accepted as authorized depositories of mail by the Postal Service.
In addressing appellees' claim, we note that we are not here confronted with a regulation which in any way prohibits individuals from going door-to-door to distribute their message or which vests unbridled discretion in a governmental official to decide whether or not to permit the distribution to occur. We are likewise not confronted with a regulation which in any way restricts the appellees' right to use the mails. The appellees may mail their civic notices in the ordinary fashion, and the Postal Service will treat such notices identically with all other mail without regard to content. There is no claim that the Postal Service treats civic notices, because of their content, any differently from the way it treats any of the other mail it processes. Admittedly, if appellees do choose to mail their notices, they will be required to pay postage in a manner identical to other Postal Service patrons, but appellees do not challenge the imposition of a fee for the services provided by the Postal Service.
128*128 What is at issue in this case is solely the constitutionality of an Act of Congress which makes it unlawful for persons to use, without payment of a fee, a letterbox which has been designated an "authorized depository" of the mail by the Postal Service. As has been previously explained, when a letterbox is so designated, it becomes an essential part of the Postal Service's nationwide system for the delivery and receipt of mail. In effect, the postal customer, although he pays for the physical components of the "authorized depository," agrees to abide by the Postal Service's regulations in exchange for the Postal Service agreeing to deliver and pick up his mail.
Appellees' claim is undermined by the fact that a letterbox, once designated an "authorized depository," does not at the same time undergo a transformation into a "public forum" of some limited nature to which the First Amendment guarantees access to all comers. There is neither historical nor constitutional support for the characterization of a letterbox as a public forum. Letterboxes are an essential part of the nationwide system for the delivery and receipt of 129*129 mail, and since 1934 access to them has been unlawful except under the terms and conditions specified by Congress and the Postal Service. As such, it is difficult to accept appellees' assertion that because it may be somewhat more efficient to place their message in letterboxes there is a First Amendment right to do so. The underlying rationale of appellees' argument would seem to foreclose Congress or the Postal Service from requiring in the future that all letterboxes contain locks with keys being available only to the homeowner and the mail carrier. Such letterboxes are presently found in many apartment buildings, and we do not think their presence offends the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Letterboxes which lock, however, have the same effect on civic associations that wish access to them as does the enforcement of § 1725. Such letterboxes also accomplish the same purpose—that is, they protect mail revenues while at the same time facilitating the secure and efficient delivery of the mails. We do not think the First Amendment prohibits Congress from choosing to accomplish these purposes through legislation as opposed to lock and key.
Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of any reason why this Court should treat a letterbox differently for First Amendment access purposes than it has in the past treated the military base in Greer v. Spock, 424 U. S. 828 (1976), the jail or prison in Adderley v. Florida, 385 U. S. 39 (1966), and Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Union, 433 U. S. 119 (1977), or the advertising space made available in city rapid transit cars in Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights, 418 U. S. 298 (1974). In all these cases, this Court recognized that the First Amendment does not guarantee access to property simply because it is owned or controlled by the government. In Greer v. Spock, supra, the Court cited approvingly from its earlier opinion in Adderley v. Florida, supra, wherein it explained that "`[t]he State, no less than a private owner of 130*130 property, has power to preserve the property under its control for the use to which it is lawfully dedicated.'" 424 U. S., at 836.
This Court has not hesitated in the past to hold invalid 131*131 laws which it concluded granted too much discretion to public officials as to who might and who might not solicit individual homeowners, or which too broadly inhibited the access of persons to traditional First Amendment forums such as the public streets and parks. See, e. g., Village of Schaumburg v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 444 U. S. 620 (1980); Hague v. CIO, 307 U. S. 496 (1939); Schneider v. State, 308 U. S. 147 (1939); Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U. S. 141 (1943); Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U. S. 444 (1938); and Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U. S. 92 (1972). But it is a giant leap from the traditional "soapbox" to the letterbox designated as an authorized depository of the United States mails, and we do not believe the First Amendment requires us to make that leap.
132*132 It is thus unnecessary for us to examine § 1725 in the context of a "time, place, and manner" restriction on the use of the traditional "public forums" referred to above. This Court has long recognized the validity of reasonable time, place, and manner regulations on such a forum so long as the regulation is content-neutral, serves a significant governmental interest, and leaves open adequate alternative channels for communication. See, e. g., Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Service Comm'n, 447 U. S. 530, 535-536 (1980); Linmark Associates, Inc. v. Willingboro, 431 U. S. 85, 93 (1977); Virginia Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U. S. 748, 771 (1976); Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U. S. 104 (1972); Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U. S. 569 (1941). But since a letterbox is not traditionally such a "public forum," the elaborate analysis engaged in by the District Court was, we think, unnecessary. To be sure, if a governmental regulation is based on the content of the speech or the message, that action must be scrutinized more carefully to ensure that communication has not been prohibited "`merely because public officials disapprove the speaker's view.'" Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Service Comm'n, supra, at 536, quoting Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U. S. 268, 282 (1951) (Frankfurter, J., concurring in result). But in this case there simply is no question that § 1725 does not regulate speech on the basis of content. While the analytical line between a regulation of the "time, place, and manner" in which First Amendment rights may be exercised in a traditional public forum, and the question of whether a particular piece of personal or real property owned or controlled by the government is in fact a "public forum" may blur at the edges, we think the line is nonetheless a workable one. We likewise think that Congress may, in exercising its authority to develop and operate a national postal system, properly legislate with the generality of cases in mind, and 133*133 should not be put to the test of defending in one township after another the constitutionality of a statute under the traditional "time, place, and manner" analysis. This Court has previously acknowledged that the "guarantees of the First Amendment have never meant `that people who want to propagandize protests or views have a constitutional right to do so whenever and however and wherever they please.'" Greer v. Spock, 424 U. S., at 836, quoting Adderley v. Florida, 385 U. S., at 48. If Congress and the Postal Service are to operate as efficiently as possible a system for the delivery of mail which serves a Nation extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, from the Canadian boundary on the north to the Mexican boundary on the south, it must obviously adopt regulations of general character having uniform applicability throughout the more than three million square miles which the United States embraces. In so doing, the Postal Service's authority to impose regulations cannot be made to depend on all of the variations of climate, population, density, and other factors that may vary significantly within a distance of less than 100 miles.
From the time of the issuance of the first postage stamp in this country at Brattleboro, Vt., in the fifth decade of the last century, through the days of the governmentally subsidized "Pony Express" immediately before the Civil War, and through the less admirable era of the Star Route Mail Frauds in the latter part of that century, Congress has actively exercised the authority conferred upon it by the Constitution "to establish Post Offices and Post Roads" and "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper" for executing this task. While Congress, no more than a suburban township, may not by its own ipse dixit destroy the "public forum" status of streets and parks which have historically been public forums, we think that for the reasons stated a letterbox may not properly be analogized to streets and parks. 134*134 It is enough for our purposes that neither the enactment nor the enforcement of § 1725 was geared in any way to the content of the message sought to be placed in the letterbox. The judgment of the District Court is accordingly.
JUSTICE BRENNAN, concurring in the judgment.
I concur in the judgment, but not in the Court's opinion. I believe the Court errs in not determining whether § 1725 is a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction on appellees' exercise of their First Amendment rights, as urged by the Government, and in resting its judgment instead on the conclusion that a letterbox is not a public forum. In my view, this conclusion rests on an improper application of the Court's precedents and ignores the historic role of the mails as a national medium of communication.
Section 1725 provides:
"Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits any mailable matter such as statements of accounts, circulars, sale bills, or other like matter, on which no postage has been paid, in any letter box established, approved, or accepted by the Postal Service for the receipt or delivery of mail matter on any mail route with intent to avoid payment of lawful postage thereon, shall for each such offense be fined not more than $300." 18 U. S. C. § 1725.
Unquestionably, § 1725 burdens in some measure the First Amendment rights of appellees who seek to "communicate ideas, positions on local issues, and civic information to their constituents," through delivery of circulars door-to-door. 490 F. Supp. 157, 162 (1980). See Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U. S. 141, 146-147 (1943). The statute requires appellees either to pay postage to obtain access to the postal system, which they assert they are unable to do, or to deposit 135*135 their materials in places other than the letterbox, which they contend is less effective than deposit in the letterbox.
Despite the burden on appellees' rights, I conclude that the statute is constitutional because it is a reasonable time, place, and manner regulation. See Schad v. Mount Ephraim, 452 U. S. 61, 74-77 (1981); Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Service Comm'n, 447 U. S. 530, 535-536 (1980); Linmark Associates, Inc. v. Willingboro, 431 U. S. 85, 93 (1977); Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U. S. 104, 115-116 (1972). First, § 1725 is content-neutral because it is not directed at the content of the message appellees seek to convey, but applies equally to all mailable matter. See Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Service Comm'n, supra, at 536; Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, 422 U. S. 205, 209-211 (1975); Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U. S. 92, 95 (1972).
Second, the burden on expression advances a significant governmental interest—preventing loss of mail revenues. The District Court's finding that the "failure to enforce the statute as to [appellees] would [not] result in a substantial loss of revenue" may be true, 490 F. Supp. 157, 163 (emphasis added), but that conclusion overlooks the obvious cumulative effect that the District Court's ruling would have if applied across the country. Surely, the Government is correct when it argues that the Postal Service "is not required to make a case-by-case showing of a compelling need for the incremental revenue to be realized from charging postage to each organization or individual who desires to use the postal system to engage in expression protected by the First Amendment." Reply Brief for Appellant 8.
Third, there are "ample alternative channels for communication." Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Service Comm'n, 447 U. S. at 535. Appellees may, for example, place their circulars under doors or attach them to doorknobs. Simply because recipients may find 82% of materials left in the letterbox, but only 70-75% of materials otherwise left at the residence, is not a sufficient reason to conclude that alternative 136*136 means of delivery are not "ample." Ibid.; see ante, at 120, and n. 2.
The Court declines to analyze § 1725 as a time, place, and manner restriction. Instead, it concludes that a letterbox is not a public forum. Ante, at 128. Thus the Court states that
"it is difficult to conceive of any reason why this Court should treat a letterbox differently for First Amendment access purposes than it has in the past treated the military base in Greer v. Spock, 424 U. S. 828 (1976), the jail or prison in Adderley v. Florida, 385 U. S. 39 (1966), and Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Union, 433 U. S. 119 (1977), or the advertising space made available in city rapid transit cars in Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights, 418 U. S. 298 (1974)." Ante, at 129.
I believe that the Court's conclusion ignores the proper method of analysis in determining whether property owned or directly controlled by the Government is a public forum. Moreover, even if the Court were correct that a letterbox is not a public forum, the First Amendment would still require the Court to determine whether the burden on appellees' exercise of their First Amendment rights is supportable as a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction.
For public forum analysis, "[t]he crucial question is whether the manner of expression is basically incompatible with the normal activity of a particular place at a particular time." Grayned v. City of Rockford, supra, at 116. We have often quoted Justice Holmes' observation that the "'United States may give up the Post Office when it sees fit, but while it carries it on the use of the mails is almost as much a part of free speech as the right to use our tongues . . . .'" Blount v. Rizzi, 400 U. S. 410, 416 (1971), and Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U. S. 301, 305 (1965), quoting United States exrel. 137*137 Milwaukee Social Democratic Pub. Co. v. Burleson, 255 U. S. 407, 437 (1921) (Holmes, J., dissenting). Our cases have recognized generally that public properties are appropriate fora for exercise of First Amendment rights. See, e. g., Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U. S. 503, 512 (1969); Brown v. Louisiana, 383 U. S. 131, 139-140, 142 (1966) (plurality opinion); Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U. S. 536, 543 (1965); Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U. S. 229 (1963). While First Amendment rights exercised on public property may be subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, that is very different from saying that government-controlled property, such as a letterbox, does not constitute a public forum. Only where the exercise of First Amendment rights is incompatible with the normal activity occurring on public property have we held that the property is not a public forum. See Greer v. Spock, 424 U. S. 828 (1976); Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Union, 433 U. S. 119 (1977); Adderley v. Florida, 385 U. S. 39 (1966). Thus, in answering "[t]he crucial question . . . whether the manner of expression is basically incompatible with the normal activity of a particular place at a particular time," Grayned v. City of Rockford, supra, at 116, I believe that the mere deposit of mailable matter without postage is not "basically incompatible" with the "normal activity" for which a letterbox is used, i. e., deposit of mailable matter with proper postage or mail delivery by the Postal Service. On the contrary, the mails and the letterbox are specifically used for the communication of information and ideas, and thus surely constitute a public 138*138 forum appropriate for the exercise of First Amendment rights subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions such as those embodied in § 1725 or in the requirement that postage be affixed to mailable matter to obtain access to the postal system.
The history of the mails as a vital national medium of expression confirms this conclusion. Just as "streets and parks . . . have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions," Hague v. CIO, 307 U. S. 496, 515 (1939), so too the mails from the early days of the Republic have played a crucial role in communication. The Court itself acknowledges the importance of the mails as a forum for communication:
"Government without communication is impossible, and until the invention of the telephone and telegraph, the mails were the principal means of communication. . . . In 1775, Franklin was named the first Postmaster General by the Continental Congress, and, because of the trend toward war, the Continental Congress undertook its first serious effort to establish a secure mail delivery organization in order to maintain communication between the States and to supply revenue for the Army." Ante, at 121 (emphasis added).
The Court further points out that "[t]he Post Office played a vital . . . role in the development of our new Nation," ibid. (emphasis added), and currently processes "106.3 billion pieces of mail each year," ante, at 122. The variety of communication transported by the Postal Service ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, and includes newspapers, magazines, books, films, and almost any type and form of expression imaginable. See Kappel Commission. Toward Postal Excellence, 139*139 Report of the President's Commission on Postal Organization 47-48 (Comm. Print 1968). Given "the historic dependence of the Nation on the Postal Service." ante, at 123, it is extraordinary that the Court reaches the conclusion that the letterbox, a critical link in the mail system, is not a public forum.
Not only does the Court misapprehend the historic role that the mails have played in national communication, but it relies on inapposite cases to reach its result. Greer v. Spock, Adderley v. Florida, and Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Union, all rested on the inherent incompatibility between the 140*140 rights sought to be exercised and the physical location in which the exercise was to occur. Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights rested in large measure on the captive audience doctrine, 418 U. S., at 304, and in part on the transportation purpose of the city bus system, id., at 303. These cases, therefore, provide no support for the Court's conclusion that a letterbox is not a public forum.
Having determined that a letterbox is not a public forum, the Court inexplicably terminates its analysis. Surely, however, the mere fact that property is not a public forum does not free government to impose unwarranted restrictions on First Amendment rights. The Court itself acknowledges that the postal power "may not . . . be exercised by Congress in a manner that abridges the freedom of speech or of the press protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution." Ante, at 126. Even where property does not constitute a public forum, government regulation that is content-neutral must still be reasonable as to time, place, and manner. See, e. g., Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc., 427 U. S. 50, 63, n. 18 (1976). Cf. Linmark Associates, Inc. v. Willingboro, 431 U. S., at 92-93; Virginia Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U. S. 748, 771 (1976). The 141*141 restriction in § 1725 could have such an effect on First Amendment rights—and does for JUSTICE MARSHALL—that it should be struck down. The Court, therefore, cannot avoid analyzing § 1725 as a time, place, and manner restriction.
I would conclude, contrary to the Court, that a letterbox is a public forum, but, nevertheless, concur in the judgment because I conclude that 18 U. S. C. §
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