In Secretary of the Navy v. Huff, 444 U.S. 453 (1980), the Supreme Court upheld a regulation requiring members of the armed services to obtain a commander’s approval before circulating petitions or leaflets. The case reached the Court at the same time as Brown v. Glines, which became the controlling case.

Frank Huff, Robert Falatine, and Robert Gabrielson were charged with circulating a petition contrary to U.S. Navy and Marine Corps regulations that required prior approval from their commander. Huff and Falatine had also sought to distribute off base a pamphlet containing the Declaration of Independence and the First Amendment and criticizing military commanders who had restricted petitioning. Huff and Falatine claimed protection under section 10 of the U.S. Code at 1034, which provided that “[no] person may restrict any member of an armed force in communicating with a member of Congress, unless the communication is unlawful or violates a regulation necessary to the security of the United States.”

In a per curiam opinion, the Court overturned the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that had invalidated the regulation requiring command approval. Relying chiefly on Brown v. Glines, the Court reasoned that federal statutes were designed to allow individuals to express their views to members of Congress but did not authorize “the unrestricted circulation of petitions within a military base.” On such matters, commanders needed to be given sufficient authority “to preserve morale and good order among his troops.” Justices Potter Stewart, John Paul Stevens, and William J. Brennan Jr. dissented, with Brennan referencing his dissent in the companion case.

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