PLEASANT GROVE CITY v. SUMMUM

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
07-665
Petitioner 
Pleasant Grove City, Utah et al.
Respondent 
Summum
Advocates
(argued the cause for the petitioners)
(Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioners)
(argued the cause for the respondent)
Term:
Location: Pioneer Park
Facts of the Case 

Summum, a religious organization, sent a letter to the mayor of Pleasant Grove, Utah asking to place a monument in one of the city's parks. Although the park already housed a monument to the Ten Commandments, the mayor denied Summum's request because the monument did not "directly relate to the history of Pleasant Grove." Summum filed suit against the city in federal court citing, among other things, a violation of its First Amendment free speech rights. The U.S. District Court for the District of Utah denied Summum's request for a preliminary injunction.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court and granted Summum's injunction request. The Tenth Circuit held that the park was in fact a "public" forum, not a non-public forum as the district court had held. Furthermore, Summum demonstrated that it would suffer irreparable harm if the injunction were to be denied, and the interests of the city did not outweigh this potential harm. The injunction, according to the court, was also not against the public interest.

Question 

Does a city's refusal to place a religious organization's monument in a public park violate that organization's First Amendment free speech rights when the park already contains a monument from a different religious group?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for Pleasant Grove City, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: First Amendment

No. The Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit holding that the placement of a monument in a public park is a form of government speech and therefore not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. With Justice Samuel A. Alito writing for the majority and joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justices John Paul Stevens, Antonin G. Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen G. Breyer, the Court reasoned that since Pleasant Grove City had retained final authority over which monuments were displayed, the monuments represented an expression of the city's viewpoints and thus government speech.

Justice Stevens, joined by Justice Ginsburg, wrote a separate concurring opinion that largely embraced the majority's reasoning. Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Thomas, also wrote a separate concurring opinion. Agreeing with the Court's reasoning, he also noted that there were likely no violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment on the part of Pleasant Grove City. He argued that displays of the Ten Commandments had been construed by the Court as "having an undeniable historical meaning" and thus did not attempt to establish a religion. Justice Breyer also wrote a separate concurring opinion in which he noted that "government speech" should be considered a rule of thumb and not a rigid category. He stated that sometimes the Court should ask "whether a government's actions burdens speech disproportionately in light of the action's tendency to further a legitimate government objective." Justice Souter also wrote separately, concurring in the judgment, but warning that public monuments should not be considered government speech categorically.

Cite this Page
PLEASANT GROVE CITY v. SUMMUM. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 20 June 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_07_665/>.
PLEASANT GROVE CITY v. SUMMUM, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_07_665/ (last visited June 20, 2014).
"PLEASANT GROVE CITY v. SUMMUM," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed June 20, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_07_665/.