Current Issue

Volume 75, Number 4

October 2000

A Nonpublic Forum or a Brutal Bureaucracy? Advocates’ Claims of Access to Welfare Center Waiting Rooms

Sheri M. Danz

In this Note, Sheri Danz evaluates the impact of the evolution of the public forum doctrine on advocates’ claims of access to welfare centers. Welfare agencies often prohibit legal advocates from associating with and educating welfare applicants on welfare center grounds. Recently, courts have applied the public forum doctrine to uphold welfare agency restrictions on advocacy against First Amendment challenges by advocates. Danz argues that despite the increasingly formalistic and deferential nature of the Supreme Court’s public forum decisions, reviewing courts should not uphold welfare agency policies that prohibit advocacy in welfare center waiting rooms. She first examines the use of bureaucratic disentitlement practices by welfare agencies to deny applicants their statutory rights and deprive them of much-needed benefits. Danz argues that these practices invoke a core concern of the First Amendment-to protect the right of citizens to check governmental abuse. Next, she explores changes in the public forum doctrine and assesses their impact on advocates’ claims of access to welfare center waiting rooms. Finally, Danz identifies three grounds under the modern public forum doctrine that should lead a reviewing court to overturn prohibitions on advocacy at welfare centers: Restrictions on advocacy in welfare center waiting rooms lack the compelling interest required for restrictions in designated public fora, many prohibitions on advocacy reflect viewpoint-discriminatory motives, and courts that view restrictions as a component of bureaucratic disentitlement may find that restrictions on advocacy fail reasonably to promote legitimate governmental goals.