Lebron v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation (NRPC)
Decided on Feb. 21, 1995; 513 US 374


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed:  1st Amendment (press, speech, association)

B. Legal Question Presented:

Are actions of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, commonly known as Amtrak, subject to the constraints of the Constitution?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Petitioner, Michael A. Lebron, creates billboard displays that comment on public issues. He filed a suit against National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), claiming, among other things, that the respondent (Amtrak) had violated his First and Fifth Amendment rights by rejecting a display for an Amtrak billboard because of its political nature. The District Court ruled that the rejection of the display was unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals reversed, noting that Amtrak was not a government entity and its decisions could not be considered federal action.

Lebron filed a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court to resolve the issue.
 
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)

David D. Cole argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the brief were R. Bruce Rich and Gloria C. Phares.

Kevin T. Baine argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Nicole K. Seligman, Stephen C. Rogers, and Louis R. Cohen.

C. The Arguments:

ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union by Stephen R. Shapiro, Marjorie Heins, and Arthur N. Eisenberg; and for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., et al., by James F. Fitzpatrick, Elliot M. Mincberg, and Lawrence S. Ottinger. No amici curiae briefs were filed on behalf of the Respondent.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"[I]t is not for Congress to make the final determination of Amtrak’s status as a Government entity for purposes of determining the constitutional rights of citizens affected by its actions...

Facing the question of Amtrak’s status for the first time, we conclude that it is an agency or instrumentality of the United States for the purpose of individual rights guaranteed against the Government by the Constitution. This conclusion seems to us in accord with public and judicial understanding of the nature of Government - created and - controlled corporations over the years… That Government - created and - controlled corporations are for many purposes at least part of the Government itself has a strong basis, not merely in past practice and understanding, but in reason itself. It surely cannot be that government, state or federal, is able to evade the most solemn obligations imposed in the Constitution by simply resorting to the corporate form...

Amtrak was created by a special statute, explicitly for the furtherance of federal governmental goals… [S]ix of the corporation’s eight externally named directors… are appointed directly by the President of the United States - four of them… with the advice and consent of the Senate...

We hold that where, as here, the Government creates a corporation by special law, for the furtherance of governmental objectives, and retains for itself permanent authority to appoint a majority of the directors of that corporation, the corporation is part of the Government for purposes of the First Amendment. We express no opinion as to whether Amtrak’s refusal to display Lebron’s advertisement violated that Amendment, but leave it to the Court of Appeals to decide that. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

Justice Vote: 8 Pro vs. 1 Con

  • Scalia, A. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • O’Connor, S. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed a brief as amicus curiae urging reversal; the Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in an 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.