In the case of Turner v. Grand Blanc Cmty. School Dist., E.D.Mich. No. 14-cv-14034, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141589, a teacher challenged a school board’s sign-in policy and public comment time limits at its public board meetings as a violation of the First Amendment.
A federal court upheld the sign-in policy as it was merely a process by which the board identified those citizens who wished to speak. The court also held that ending the public comment session for timing reasons was permissible as the board was not required to allow every citizen with an opinion to make a comment. According to the court, allowing every citizen to make a comment would “take all night [and] effectively remove the Board’s ability to control the manner of the” meeting.
Even though this school board’s public comment policies were upheld, this case still serves as a reminder as to why public agencies should always review their public comment policies and practices for First Amendment compliance. Many public boards have policies that require citizens to state the subject matter of their comments or their particular viewpoint prior to speaking. Some even allow the board to rule a citizen out of order based on something the citizen says during public comments. The court in this case emphasized that such policies are “content-based” restrictions on speech prohibited under the First Amendment.
Authors: Matthew John Markling and Patrick Vrobel