Lebron v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) Historic Case

At a Glance

Case Description 

In Lebron v. Amtrak, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) asserted that Amtrak, being a government actor, violated Mr. Lebron’s First Amendment rights by refusing to display his political advertisement at Penn Station.

On November 30, 1992, Mr. Lebron signed a contract with Transportation Displays, Inc. (TDI) which managed the leasing of billboards at Penn Station. However, Amtrak’s vice president disapproved the advertisement, invoking Amtrak’s policy “that it will not allow political advertising on the Spectacular advertising sign.”

Amtrak argued that regardless of its relationship with the federal government, its congressional “charter’s disclaimer of agency status prevents it from being considered a government entity.”

The district court however found that “Amtrak, because of its close ties to the Federal Government, was a government actor, at least for First Amendment purposes, and that its rejection of Lebron’s proposed advertisement as unsuitable for display in Penn Station had violated the First Amendment.”

Contrarily, on appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision and noted that that Amtrak by terms of its legislation was a non-governmental entity.

In February 1995, the Supreme Court, after granting certiorari, reversed the Second Circuit’s decision and remanded the case. The Supreme Court deemed Amtrak a government actor since Amtrak was “created by a special statute, explicitly for the furtherance of federal goals.” Further, the Court noted that six of the corporation’s eight externally named directors are appointed directly by the President of the United States – four of them with the advice and consent of the Senate.

The Court only ruled on the narrow issue of whether Amtrak was or was not a government actor and deferred the matter of the First Amendment to the lower courts.

On remand, the Second Circuit again ruled against Lebron, stating that “Amtrak’s historical refusal to accept political advertisements such as Lebron’s on the Spectacular is a reasonable use of that forum that is neutral as to viewpoint.” The Court of Appeals denied a rehearing in December 1995, and though Mr. Lebron appealed again to the Supreme Court, the Court rejected the appeal in May 1996.