Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck
|Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck|
|Argued February 25, 2019|
Decided June 17, 2019
|Full case name||Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck|
|Prior||Motion to dismiss granted, Halleck v. City of New York, 224 F. Supp. 3d 238 (S.D.N.Y. 2016); reversed in part, Halleck v. Manhattan Cmty. Access Corp., 882 F.3d 300 (2d Cir. 2018); cert. granted, 139 S. Ct. 360 (2018).|
|Majority||Kavanaugh, joined by Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch|
|Dissent||Sotomayor, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan|
Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, No. 17-1702, was a United States Supreme Court case related to limitations on First Amendment-based free speech placed by private operators. While the case deals with speech limited by a public access television station, questioning whether the station was a state actor or a private entity, analysts expect the case will determine if private operators' limitations on free speech on social media violate First Amendment rights. The Court ruled that the station was not considered a state actor for purposes of evaluating free speech issues in the 5-4 ruling along ideological lines.
In the past, the Supreme Court has not directly ruled that public access televisions systems, which operate on leased channels provided by the government, are not considered public forums, as established by a split ruling in Denver Area Educ. Telecomms. Consortium, Inc. v. F.C.C. Such television systems have generally been upheld as being private operators rather than a state actor, giving them the ability to limit free speech.
Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) is a public access television network run by Manhattan Community Access Corp. that serves New York City. In 2012, DeeDee Halleck and Jesus Papoleto Melendez, employees of MNN at the time, went to a MNN Board meeting but were told the meeting was private. According to Halleck, the following day Melendez was told he was not allowed in the studio.  Halleck and Melendez then produced a program entitled The 1% Visit El Barrio that was critical of MNN. While their program was aired once, further airings were cancelled and the two were denied further access to the MNN premises and channel, Halleck for a year and Melendez for life.
The two filed suit against MNN and the city, claiming that how MNN was set up made the public access system a public forum, and that their First Amendment rights to free speech were violated. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the case in December 2016, following arguments from the city and MNN, and following the Supreme Court's own decision from Denver Area that declined to settle whether public access systems were considered state actors. The District Court found, "In short, there is no clear precedent governing whether public access channels are public fora. The issue is certainly a close call." 
On appeal to the Second Circuit, two of the three judges there ruled for Halleck and Melendez, citing Justice Anthony Kennedy dissent in Denver Area that suggested that public access systems, since mandated by the government, should be treated as state actors, and thus cannot regulate free speech. The City was not considered to be at fault.
MNN petitioned for writ of certatori in June 2018, with the Court granting the case in October 2018. It was the first case accepted by the Court following the induction of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, replacing Kennedy on the bench.
While the case is directly about public access television, several analysts believe that the Court will also review how companies that control social media on the Internet would by treated under similar considerations. This was predicated on the Court's prior decision in Packingham v. North Carolina, where the Court did rule that social media was a "protected space" for lawful speech under the First Amendment.
On February 25, 2019, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments. The Justices' questions centered around whether the city had a property interest in MNN's channel space and what precisely New York's "first come, first serve" rule meant practically. 
The Court delivered its 5-4 decision along ideological lines on June 17, 2019, which reversed the Second Circuit's decision and remanded the case to be reheard on its ruling. Justice Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion, finding that MNN could not be considered a state actor in how it operates, and as such, was not bound to protect free speech rights as a state actor would be expected. The dissenting opinion, written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor believed that MNN “stepped into the City's shoes and thus qualifies as a state actor, subject to the First Amendment like any other." As the decision was more limited, ruling on the status of MNN rather than whether the actions directly affecting free speech, the case is not expected to have a major impact on social media.
- Denver Area Educ. Telecomms. Consortium, Inc. v. F.C.C., 518 U.S. 727 (1996).
- Halleck v. City of New York, 224 F. Supp. 3d 238 (S.D.N.Y. 2016).
- Halleck v. Manhattan Cmty. Access Corp., 882 F.3d 300 (2d Cir. 2018).
- Packingham v. North Carolina, No. 15-1194, 582 U.S. ___ (2017).
- Lecher, Colin (June 17, 2019). "First Amendment constraints don't apply to private platforms, Supreme Court affirms". The Verge. Retrieved June 17, 2019.
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