Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators' Association - Wikipedia

Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators' Association
Argued October 13, 1982
Decided February 23, 1983
Full case namePerry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators' Association
Citations460 U.S. 37 (more)
103 S. Ct. 948; 74 L. Ed. 2d 794
Case history
PriorPerry Local Educators' Ass'n v. Hohlt, 652 F.2d 1286 (7th Cir. 1981)
SubsequentOn remand, Perry Local Educators' Ass'n v. Hohlt, 705 F.2d 462 (7th Cir. 1983)
The First Amendment is not violated by the preferential access to the interschool mail system granted to a teacher's union but not other employee organizations.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
MajorityWhite, joined by Burger, Blackmun, Rehnquist, and O'Connor
DissentBrennan, joined by Marshall, Powell, Stevens
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Amend. I

Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators' Association, 460 U.S. 37 (1983), was a United States Supreme Court decision concerning free speech rights on government-owned property. The Court ruled that teacher mailboxes and the use of a school mail delivery system are a nonpublic forum, and upheld a policy that allowed the union representing the teachers, but not other employee organizations, to use the district's mail system.[1]

Perry Education Association is commonly cited for its explanation of the rules distinguishing the public forum, the designated public forum, and the nonpublic forum.


Two rival unions were in competition to represent the teachers of Perry Township Schools in Indiana: the Perry Education Association (PEA) and the Perry Local Educators' Association (PLEA). In 1977, PEA won an election and was certified as the exclusive bargaining representative for the district's teachers.

Following the election, PEA negotiated a labor contract with the district. Among other things, this contract gave PEA the right to place material in teachers' mailboxes and to use the interschool mail delivery system. Mail access rights were given exclusively to PEA, and could not be used by any other "school employee organization."

PLEA, the rival organization, could not use teacher mailboxes or the school mail system. However, PLEA was not prevented from posting notices on bulletin boards, holding meetings on school property, or making announcements on the public address system. In addition, under Indiana law, PLEA was assured of equal access to all modes of communication during election periods.

PLEA filed a civil suit against PEA under §1983, claiming that the mail access policy violated PLEA's First Amendment rights. The Seventh Circuit sided with PLEA, ruling that there was no basis for denying PLEA mail access.[2]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

In a 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the Seventh Circuit and upheld the mail access policy.

Writing for the majority, Justice Byron White analyzed the three types of forums that arise when speakers use government-owned property to convey a message:

  • A public forum is a public place, such as a street or park, that "time out of mind, [has] been used" for expressive purposes.[3] In the traditional public forum, speech restrictions must be content-neutral, be narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample alternative channels of communication.[4]
  • A designated public forum is "public property which the State has opened for use by the public as a place for expressive activity." Although the government is not required to open or maintain a designated public forum, as long as such a forum exists the government is "bound by the same standards as apply in a traditional public forum."[5]
  • Finally, a nonpublic forum is not open to the public for expressive purposes, although speakers may gain access by the government's invitation or permission. In a nonpublic forum, government may not discriminate according to viewpoint, but it may "draw distinctions which relate to the special purpose for which the property is used."[6]

The Court concluded that the school mail system was a nonpublic forum. Although other organizations such as the Cub Scouts and the YMCA were at times permitted to use the mail facilities, this was done with the permission of the building principal. Such "selective access does not transform government property into a public forum."[7]

Next, the Court ruled that PEA's preferential access was a reasonable distinction based on status, not viewpoint. Distinctions based on "subject matter and speaker identity" are "inescapable in the process of limiting a nonpublic forum to activities compatible with the intended purpose of the property."[8] There was no evidence that PEA's favorable treatment was a consequence of different viewpoints on labor or any other issue. Rather, the unequal treatment simply reflected PEA's "special responsibilities" as the exclusive bargaining agent for teachers.[9]

The majority also found that the restriction was reasonable because "substantial alternative channels ... remain[ed] open" for PLEA to communicate with teachers.[10] These channels included bulletin boards, the United States mail, and the use of school mail facilities during election periods.

Justice William Brennan dissented, arguing that the mail policy was a form of viewpoint discrimination. Viewpoint discrimination is impermissible even in a nonpublic forum.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators' Association, 460 U.S. 37 (1983).
  2. ^ Perry Education Association, at 41–42.
  3. ^ Quoting Hague v. Committee for Industrial Organization, 307 U.S. 496, 515 (1939).
  4. ^ Perry Education Association, at 45.
  5. ^ Perry Education Association, at 45–46.
  6. ^ Perry Education Association, at 55.
  7. ^ Perry Education Association, at 47.
  8. ^ Perry Education Association, at 49.
  9. ^ Perry Education Association, at 51.
  10. ^ Perry Education Association, at 53.

External links[edit]