Can the government impose a 10-minute time limit on speakers during a ‘public comment’ period?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Probably. A 10-minute limitation likely would qualify as a reasonable time,
place and manner restriction on speech. It is a content-neutral provision that
on its face does not discriminate against certain types of speech. The question
would be whether the government was applying the time limitation evenhandedly.
If the government imposed the limitations on speakers with whose views it
disagreed, but waived the requirement for those with whom it agreed, there would
be a constitutional problem. For example, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held in 1994 that the president of a school board was allowed to restrict the amount of time given for comments because of high attendance at a particular meeting. The court held that the school board’s policy at this meeting, which limited the public comment session to 45 minutes and each speaker to five minutes, “was a permissible content-neutral restriction on the time, manner, and place of the plaintiffs’ speech and did not violate the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights. Where regulation of speech is content neutral, is narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and leaves open ample alternative avenues for communication, it is constitutionally valid. … [I]n this case, the regulation affected the timing of the speech, not its content.” Hansen v. Westerville City School District Board of Education, 1994 U.S. App. LEXIS 31576.