BE&K Constr. Co. v. NLRB, 536 U.S. 516, 10 (2002)

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Cite as: 536 U. S. 516 (2002)

Opinion of the Court

by "[t]he very idea of a government, republican in form," United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U. S. 542, 552 (1876).

We have also considered the right to petition when interpreting federal law. In the antitrust context, for example, we held that "the Sherman Act does not prohibit . . . persons from associating . . . in an attempt to persuade the legislature or the executive to take particular action with respect to a law that would produce a restraint or a monopoly." Eastern Railroad Presidents Conference v. Noerr Motor Freight, Inc., 365 U. S. 127, 136 (1961). We based our interpretation in part on the principle that we would not "lightly impute to Congress an intent to invade . . . freedoms" protected by the Bill of Rights, such as the right to petition. Id., at 138. We later made clear that this antitrust immunity "shields from the Sherman Act a concerted effort to influence public officials regardless of intent or purpose." Mine Workers v. Pennington, 381 U. S. 657, 670 (1965).

These antitrust immunity principles were then extended to situations where groups "use . . . courts to advocate their causes and points of view respecting resolution of their business and economic interests vis-à-vis their competitors." California Motor Transport Co. v. Trucking Unlimited, 404 U. S. 508, 511 (1972) (emphasis added). We thus made explicit that "the right to petition extends to all departments of the Government," and that "[t]he right of access to the courts is . . . but one aspect of the right of petition." Id., at 510.

Even then, however, we emphasized that such immunity did not extend to "illegal and reprehensible practice[s] which may corrupt the . . . judicial proces[s]," id., at 513, hearkening back to an earlier statement that antitrust immunity would not extend to lobbying "ostensibly directed toward influencing governmental action [that] is a mere sham to cover what is actually nothing more than an attempt to interfere directly with the business relationships of a competitor." Noerr, supra, at 144. This line of cases thus establishes that while


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