In Hudgens v. National Labor Relations Board, 424 U.S. 507 (1976), the Supreme Court ruled that there was no right to exercise free speech in privately owned malls under the First Amendment.

Members of a striking union had picketed in front of their employer’s store, which was leased in a mall owned by Scott Hudgens, and had been told by the mall manager that if they continued to picket they would be arrested for trespass. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined that the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 had been violated and brought suit to require Hudgens to allow the picketing to continue.

Picketers rights upheld by Court

Writing the 6-2 majority opinion, Justice Potter Stewart first stated unequivocally that the constitutional guarantee of free speech is a guarantee only against abridgment by government, federal or state, not private persons or corporations. He then stated that despite this truism, the record demonstrated exceptions.

The first exception to the rule was in Marsh v. Alabama (1946), when the Court ruled that the sidewalks of a privately owned company town were the equivalent of those in a public community. Marsh influenced Amalgamated Food Employees Union Local 590 v. Logan Valley Plaza (1968), in which the Court ruled that picketing in a privately owned shopping mall was protected First Amendment activity since the walkways of a mall were the functional equivalent of a city sidewalk.

Ruling later reversed, favoring private owners

Four years later the Court reconsidered the Logan Valley doctrine in Lloyd Corporation, Ltd. v. Tanner (1972) and, without explicitly overruling it, rejected its reasoning that privately owned malls were the equivalent of city sidewalks. Justice Stewart then made it clear that Logan Valley was no longer the ruling precedent and privately owned malls would no longer be considered to be equivalent to city sidewalks. As a result, First Amendment activity in privately owned malls could be limited by the owners of the property.

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