US Supreme Court to Decide Whether Private Entity Operating Public Access Channel Can Violate Individuals’ First Amendment Rights

The US Supreme Court last week agreed to hear a case in which two individuals sued a New York cable-TV public access channel for violating their First Amendment rights by banning them from the channel’s services and facilities.

In Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, the two petitioners, Halleck and Melendez, argue that the Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) unconstitutionally banned them from the public access channel, which they argue is a public forum subject to the First Amendment.

MNN is operated by the Manhattan Community Access Corporation (MCAC) by way of Time Warner’s contract with the city to provide public access channels, and a special law appoints two of MCAC’s thirteen board members. Although private entities such as MCAC are not ordinarily liable for constitutional violations, which require “state action” (conduct by a government actor), Halleck and Melendez argue that the public access channel effectively functions as a government actor.

Respondents MCAC and others argue that if a public access channel is considered a public forum for First Amendment purposes, then there could potentially be a slippery slope to finding social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook as public forums, as well.

Additional Reading

The Supreme Court Takes a Public-Access TV Case, The Economist, October 17, 2018

Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck via

Halleck v. Manhattan Community Access Corp. (opinion by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit) via Justia Law

Halleck v. City of New York (opinion by US District Court for the Southern District of New York) via Justia Law