Grateful for Pruneyard

I saw a table promoting Bush/Cheney 04 outside the Foothill Ranch Target, the first sign of grassroots political life that I have seen in this part of Orange County this year.

They were doing what I have done in the past as a Democratic Party registrar: signing up new voters. It’s a perfectly patriotic American pastime and totally legal, thanks to the progressive definition of what constitutes a public square under the Pruneyard decision.

As an organizer, this decision aided me considerably in setting up tables. Pruneyard observes that the area in front of gigantic, open to the public stores such as Target and Walmart as well as the interior of shopping malls constitute the new incarnation of the public square. They are “quasi-public areas” where people meet and gather to trade and discuss business and ideas.

The case originated in the northern California city of Campbell, California, at the Pruneyard shopping center:

Appellees are high school students who sought to solicit support for their opposition to a United Nations resolution against “Zionism.” On a Saturday afternoon they set up a card table in a corner of PruneYard’s central courtyard. They distributed pamphlets and asked passersby to sign petitions, which were to be sent to the President and Members of Congress. Their activity was peaceful and orderly, and, so far as the record indicates, was not objected to by PruneYard’s patrons.

Soon after appellees had begun soliciting signatures, a security guard informed them that they would have to leave because their activity violated PruneYard regulations. The guard suggested that they move to the public sidewalk at the PruneYard’s perimeter. Appellees immediately left the premises and later filed this lawsuit in the California Superior Court of Santa Clara County. They sought to enjoin appellants from denying them access to the PruneYard for the purpose of circulating their petitions.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court left it up to the states to decide whether or not free speech rights extended to these areas — clearly private in the minds of property owners but fuzzy in the minds of the public who came to use them. California protects the rights of Bush, Kerry, Nader, LaRouche, Brown, and other supporters to enter these areas for the purpose of enriching public political discourse.

Owners do have a legitimate concern, however, and this was covered by the Supreme Court decision: would people assume that the tables that appear there constitute an endorsement? The Court said no and it further granted to owners the right to post their own signs saying that they do not necessarilly endorse solicitors for political parties and religions.

This last point helped me assuage many store managers who were fearful that they would alienate customers by appearing to take a partisan stand. I don’t doubt that Bush-Cheney organizers use the tack as well. It belongs to them as much as it belongs to any other political group and I will not be one to deny it.

It is important to note when the Pruneyard decision came down: 1980. This year marked a culmination of free speech concepts by a series of progressive Supreme Courts. These figures made the free America we have today. Often the groups who benefited the most were ones who politics directly opposed the character of that court. But that was the whole point: the intellectual commons is entirely open to anyone as long as they don’t attempt to incite a riot or yell fire in crowded theaters.

So when I see the Bush/Cheney registrars outside of a store or inside a mall, I say “Thank God for that visionary, liberal Supreme Court.” Singlehandedly and with regard for the rights of all parties, it set the context for freedom, ensured that we can continue to talk in places open to the general public about the issues that matter most in our lives. What protects them, also protects me and you.

A few notes on voter registration:

You as a voter have a right to sign up at any voter registration table that you see for whatever party you wish to declare for. If you see a table registering Libertarians, for example, you may sign up as a Democrat or a Republican. If they refuse to do so, complain to the Registrar of Voters. They have broken the law.

Some voters may feel uncomfortable signing up at an opposition party’s table. There is, for example, the danger that your form will be “lost”. You may also wish to avoid entering political debate with the registrars or merely want to fill out the form in private. You have the right to ask the registrars for a blank form which you can then take home and fill out. Again, if they do not do so, complain to the Registrar of Voters.

4 Comments so far

  1. Michael Randall (unregistered) on September 14th, 2004 @ 9:56 pm

    Thanks to the Supreme Court (Take Buzan’s Constitutional Law and Civil Liberties courses and you will really understand how crazy the Supremes can be) for the Kerry/Edwards ’04 tables too.

    Thanks for reminding us of the importance to let people register with the parties they choose. If you ever get pressured into registering for a political party (be it by a Republican, Democrat, or other) REPORT IT!!

  2. Will Randall (unregistered) on September 14th, 2004 @ 10:06 pm

    I know the Target on Tustin has a big notice on the door that prohibits tabling of any kind in front of its stores. I hope the state law overrules this, as the only way to effectively reach a large amount of people in a short amount of time in SoCal is either in shopping malls or the big box stores.

  3. Joel Sax (unregistered) on September 14th, 2004 @ 10:07 pm

    My point is, Michael, that the American people should understand just who helped them have that free speech. It sure in heck wasn’t the likes of the current administration!

    Everyone who tables owes the liberals a big thank you.

  4. Meridian (unregistered) on August 17th, 2005 @ 10:24 am


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