Freedom of Speech & Expression

DAVIS v. MASSACHUSETTS, 167 U.S. 43 (1897)

Argued:
March 25, 1897
Decided:
May 10, 1897
Decided by:
Fuller Court, 1896
Legal Principle at Issue:
Whether a city can prohibit an individual from preaching on a citys common without a permit from the mayor.
Action:
Affirmed (includes modified). Petitioning party did not receive a favorable disposition.

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167 U.S. 43 (1897)

DAVIS
v.
MASSACHUSETTS.

 

 


No. 229.

Supreme Court of United States. 

 


Argued and submitted March 25, 1897.

Decided May 10, 1897.

ERROR TO THE SUPERIOR COURT OF SUFFOLK COUNTY, MASSACHUSETTS.*46 Mr. James F. Pickering for plaintiff in error submitted on his brief.Mr. Hosea M. Knowlton, Attorney General of Massachusetts, for defendant in error. Mr. George C. Travis was on his brief.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

In the brief of counsel for plaintiff in error many presumed errors are elaborately discussed, all of which when analyzed rest on the assumption that there was a right in the plaintiff in error to use the common of the city of Boston free from legislative or municipal control or regulation. It is argued that —

“Boston Common is the property of the inhabitants of the city of Boston, and dedicated to the use of the people of that city and the public in many ways, and the preaching of the gospel there has been, from time immemorial to a recent period, one of these ways. For the making of this ordinance in 1862 and its enforcement against preaching since 1885, no reason whatever has been or can be shown.”

The record, however, contains no evidence showing the manner in which the ordinance in question had been previously enforced, nor does it include any proof whatever as to the nature of the ownership in the common from which it can be deduced that the plaintiff in error had any particular right to use the common apart from the general enjoyment which he was entitled, as a citizen, to avail of along with others and to the extent only which the law permitted. On the contrary, the legislative act and the ordinance passed in pursuance thereof, previously set out in the statement of facts, show an assumption by the State of control over the common in question. Indeed, the Supreme Judicial Court, in affirming the conviction, placed its conclusion upon the express ground that the common was absolutely under the control of the legislature, which, in the exercise of its *47 discretion, could limit the use to the extent deemed by it advisable, and could and did delegate to the municipality the power to assert such authority. The court said:

“There is no evidence before us to show that the power of the legislature over the common is less than its power over any other park dedicated to the use of the public or over public streets the legal title to which is in a city or town. Lincoln v. Boston, 148 Mass. 578, 580. As representative of the public it may and does exercise control over the use which the public may make of such places, and it may and does delegate more or less of such control to the city or town immediately concerned. For the legislature absolutely or conditionally to forbid public speaking in a highway or public park is no more an infringement of the rights of a member of the public than for the owner of a private house to forbid it in his house. When no proprietary right interferes the legislature may end the right of the public to enter upon the public place by putting an end to the dedication to public uses. So it may take the less step of limiting the public use to certain purposes. See Dillon Mun. Corp. secs. 393, 407, 651, 656, 666; Brooklyn Park Commissioners v. Armstrong, 45 N.Y. 234, 243, 244.

“If the legislature had power under the constitution to pass a law in the form of the present ordinance, there is no doubt that it could authorize the city of Boston to pass the ordinance, and it is settled by the former decision, Commonwealth v. Davis, 140 Mass. 485, that it has done so.”

It is, therefore, conclusively determined there was no right in the plaintiff in error to use the common except in such mode and subject to such regulations as the legislature in its wisdom may have deemed proper to prescribe. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States does not destroy the power of the States to enact police regulations as to the subjects within their control, Barbier v. Connolly, 113 U.S. 27, 31; Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway Co. v. Beckwith, 129 U.S. 26, 29; Giozza v. Tiernan, 148 U.S. 657; Jones v. Brim, 165 U.S. 180, 182, and does not have the effect of creating a particular and personal right in the *48 citizen to use public property in defiance of the constitution and laws of the State.

The assertion that although it be conceded that the power existed in the State or municipality to absolutely control the use of the common, the particular ordinance in question is nevertheless void because arbitrary and unreasonable in that it vests in the mayor the power to determine when he will grant a permit, in truth, whilst admitting on the one hand the power to control, on the other denies its existence. The right to absolutely exclude all right to use, necessarily includes the authority to determine under what circumstances such use may be availed of, as the greater power contains the lesser. The finding of the court of last resort of the State of Massachusetts being that no particular right was possessed by the plaintiff in error to the use of the common, is in reason, therefore, conclusive of the controversy which the record presents, entirely aside from the fact that the power conferred upon the chief executive officer of the city of Boston by the ordinance in question may be fairly claimed to be a mere administrative function vested in the mayor in order to effectuate the purpose for which the common was maintained and by which its use was regulated. In re Kollock, 165 U.S. 526, 536, 537. The plaintiff in error cannot avail himself of the right granted by the State and yet obtain exemption from the lawful regulations to which this right on his part was subjected by law.

Affirmed.

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Topics: Freedom of Speech & Expression, Public Forum and Private Property

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