Supreme Court decides First Amendment, antitrust cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] decided two cases Wednesday. In Pleasant Grove City v. Summum [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously that privately donated monuments displayed in public parks qualify as government speech, and that their display is therefore not subject to freedom of expression [LII backgrounder] considerations that apply to private speech. The case involved Pleasant Grove's refusal to accept the donation of a monument displaying the Seven Aphorisms of the Summum religion, even though it had accepted a monument displaying the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments. Reversing a decision [opinion, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the court held that the display of a permanent monument on government land was best construed as speech of the government itself, and subject only to the restrictions of the Establishment Clause [LII backgrounder], which prohibits the government from creating a state religion. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that Pleasant Grove need not endorse a particular meaning of text included on a monument in order for the placement of the monument itself to be considered government expression:

Contrary to respondent’s apparent belief, it frequently is not possible to identify a single “message” that is conveyed by an object or structure, and consequently, the thoughts or sentiments expressed by a government entity that accepts and displays such an object may be quite different from those of either its creator or its donor. By accepting a privately donated monument and placing it on city property, a city engages in expressive conduct, but the intended and perceived significance of that conduct may not coincide with the thinking of the monument’s donor or creator. Indeed, when a privately donated memorial is funded by many small donations, the donors themselves may differ in their interpretation of the monument’s significance. By accepting such a monument, a government entity does not necessarily endorse the specific meaning that any particular donor sees in the monument.
Justices John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, Stephen Breyer and David Souter [concurrence texts] all filed concurring opinions.

Also Wednesday, the Court ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously in Pacific Bell v. Linkline Communications [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that telecommunication product retailers cannot pursue an antitrust claim against a telecommunication company that acts as both a retailer and wholesaler of the product when the defendant company is not under an obligation to sell the product to competing retailers. Linkline, a DSL retailer, had sued Pacific Bell, both a DSL retailer and wholesaler, for "price squeezing," a practice where a company both raises the wholesale price at which it offers a product to competitors while lowering the price at which it sells the product at retail, under a federal law [15 USC § 2 text] prohibiting monopolies. Reversing a decision [opinion, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the court rejected Linkline's claim, reasoning that a change [FCC order, PDF] in Federal Communications Commission regulations no longer required Pacific Bell to sell DSL lines to other retailers, and that there was no evidence that Pacific Bell had been participating in predatory retail pricing:
Plaintiffs’ price-squeeze claim, looking to the relation between retail and wholesale prices, is thus nothing more than an amalgamation of a meritless claim at the retail level and a meritless claim at the wholesale level. If there is no duty to deal at the wholesale level and no predatory pricing at the retail level, then a firm is certainly not required to price both of these services in a manner that preserves its rivals’ profit margins.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion of the court. Justice Breyer wrote a concurrence [text].


 

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.