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Krishnas, Airports, Solicitation, and Federalism

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There is more news from California today on the unending battle of Krishnas in the airport.

The Hare Krishnas have long supported their organization by in-person solicitation of funds. The federal district court in International Society for Krishna Consciousness v. Barber, 506 F.Supp. 147 (NDNY 1980) described fraud, subtle and not-so-subtle forms of duress, and even outright theft as among the methods they employed.

One of the Krishnas' preferred venues for their activities is airports. When Los Angeles imposed restrictions on soliciting in LAX, the Krishnas sued in federal district court. They had one small problem, however. A U.S. Supreme Court precedent in their own case, International Society for Krishna Consciousness v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672 (1992), held that airports are not a public forum for First Amendment purposes, so "restrictions ... need only satisfy a requirement of reasonableness."
But this is California, so that is indeed a minor problem. Along with the federal First Amendment compliant, they added a complaint that LA's ordinance violates the California Constitution.

Huh? ISKCON is a California corporation. How can a California corporation sue a California city on a claim that its ordinance violates the California Constitution and file that complaint in federal court? Isn't there a bit of an Article III problem there?

The claim goes in under the dubious doctrine of "pendent jurisdiction." The federal court has jurisdiction of the federal claim, and in the interest of efficiency it decides the related claims as well, even if it wouldn't have jurisdiction of them separately.

Putting aside the question of whether this is constitutional, it is certainly bad policy when you have a federal tail wagging a state dog. The federal complaint was meritless bordering on frivolous, based on a Supreme Court precedent in the plaintiff's own case.  District Judge Consuelo Marshall just blew past all this and granted the Krishnas summary judgment on the state-law claim, thereby mooting the federal question that was nominally the reason the case was in federal court to begin with.

While the case was on appeal, the response to the 9/11 attacks mooted much of the question. Everybody except passengers and employees were kicked out of the bulk of the terminal anyway. The controversy persisted, though, for the areas outside the checkpoint. CJLF's brief in the Ninth Circuit is here.

To its credit, the Ninth Circuit certified the state-law question to the California Supreme Court, where state constitutional questions belong. Today, that Court decided

whether or not Los Angeles International Airport is a public forum for free expression under the California Constitution, the ordinance is valid as a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction of expressive rights to the extent that it prohibits soliciting the immediate receipt of funds. Accordingly, we do not determine whether Los Angeles International Airport is a public forum under the liberty of speech clause of the California Constitution, because the resolution of that question could not determine the outcome of the present matter.

3 Comments

I don't think the issue is really with pendent (or supplemental) jurisdiction, but in its abuse. Clearly, there was abuse here.

I was still in law school the last time I saw a Krishna. Thanks for reminding me of the days of my youth.

Hasn't Scientology replaced all that stuff?

Haven't used LAX in a long time, have you, Bill?

Me neither. I avoid it and use Burbank whenever possible.

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