Initiative & Referendum Institute v. United States Postal Service

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Initiative & Referendum Institute v. United States Postal Service is a federal lawsuit brought by the Initiative & Referendum Institute against the United States Postal Service. The case has been working its way through the courts for many years.[1][2]

At issue in the case is whether the U.S.P.S. may constitutionally ban petition circulators for collecting signatures while standing on sidewalks near post offices. For the purposes of the lawsuit, the relevant sidewalks have been divided into two categories:

  1. Sidewalks parallel to streets. This part of the case has already been heard, and the USPS lost.
  2. Sidewalks that are known as "interior post office sidewalks." Decided in favor of USPS in September 2010 by US District Court, appealed to US Court of Appeals.[3]

Interior sidewalks

In recent years, many post offices have been structured so that primary access to the main doors in and out of the post office is off of an interior sidewalk--a branch sidewalk into the post office from the main sidewalk (the sidewalk parallel to the street). Petitioners want to stand as close as possible to the front doors of the post office; they cannot do this unless they can stand on the interior sidewalks.

Significance of case

One reason this case is important is because if the I&R Institute wins, a circulator will be able to find a good place to collect signatures in town, of nearly any size, because nearly every town has a post office, and most of those post offices have a steady stream of pedestrian traffic.


  • June 25, 1998: The U.S. Postal Service implements a regulation that banned petitioning on all post office sidewalks.
  • July 26, 2000: Federal district judge Richard Roberts, a Clinton appointee, held oral arguments in the case.
  • August 1, 2000: Judge Roberts decided that in order to make a decision, a trial on facts would have to be held.
  • October 8-17, 2002: A trial was held before Judge Roberts.
  • December 31, 2003: Judge Roberts issued his decision, upholding the U.S.P.S. ban.
  • February 8, 2005: The D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals heard the case.
  • August 9, 2005: The D.C. Circuit handed down a decision that stated that because postal sidewalks that are parallel to streets are public fora, the ban was invalid. The D.C. Circuit sent the case back to the district court to re-evaluate the decision so as to come to a decision about interior sidewalks.
  • Judge Roberts said he needed more evidence to issue a ruling on interior sidewalks.
  • August 2007: Parties of both sides of the lawsuit sent a questionnaire to a randomly chosen list of thousands of postmasters to learn how much First Amendment activity takes place on post office interior sidewalks.
  • The questionnaires were returned, results were collated and the disputing parties filed briefs arguing that the evidence supports their side.
  • As of July 2009, no decision had been reached.[4]
  • On September 8, 2010 a U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the USPS. Appealed to US Court of Appeals.[5]
  • As of July 19, 2011, all briefs have been filed in the appeal.[6]