Opinions & Commentaries

Appellant, Alma Lovell, was convicted in the Recorder's Court of the City of Griffin, Georgia, of the violation of a city ordinance and was sentenced to imprisonment for fifty days in default of the payment of a fine of fifty dollars. The violation, which is not denied, consisted of the distribution without the required permission of a pamphlet and magazine in the nature of religious tracts, setting forth the gospel of the "Kingdom of Jehovah." Appellant did not apply for a permit, as she regarded herself as sent "by Jehovah to do His work," and that such an application would have been "an act of disobedience to His commandment."

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Overruled

The respondent, a citizen of Florida, owns a former United States Navy submarine which he exhibits for profit. *53 In 1940 he brought it to New York City and moored it at a State pier in the East River. He prepared and printed a handbill advertising the boat and soliciting visitors for a stated admission fee. On his attempting to distribute the bill in the city streets, he was advised by the petitioner, as Police Commissioner, that this activity would violate § 318 of the Sanitary Code, which forbids distribution in the streets of commercial and business advertising matter,[1] but was told that he might freely distribute handbills solely devoted to "information or a public protest."

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The appellant, a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses, was charged with distributing handbills on the streets of Dallas, Texas, in violation of an ordinance of that city which prohibits their distribution. She was convicted in the Corporation Court of Dallas, and appealed to the *414 County Criminal Court where, after a trial de novo, she was again convicted and a fine of $5.00 and costs was imposed. Under Texas law she could appeal to no higher state court,[1] and since she properly raised federal questions of substance in both courts, the case is rightfully here on appeal under § 237 (a) of the Judicial Code. King Manufacturing Co. v. Augusta, 277 U.S. 100. The appellee has asked us to reconsider the doctrine of the King Manufacturing Co. case under which this Court takes jurisdiction on appeal from judgments sustaining the validity of municipal ordinances. We see no reason for reconsidering the King Manufacturing Co. case and follow it here.

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For centuries it has been a common practice in this and other countries for persons not specifically invited to go from home to home and knock on doors or ring doorbells to communicate ideas to the occupants or to invite them to political, religious, or other kinds of public meetings. Whether such visiting shall be permitted has in general been deemed to depend upon the will of the individual master of each household, and not upon the determination of the community. In the instant case, the City of Struthers, Ohio, has attempted to make this decision for all its inhabitants. The question to be decided is whether the City, consistently with the federal Constitution's *142 guarantee of free speech and press, possesses this power.[1]The appellant, espousing a religious cause in which she was interested — that of the Jehovah's Witnesses — went to the homes of strangers, knocking on doors and ringing doorbells in order to distribute to the inmates of the homes leaflets advertising a religious meeting. In doing so, she proceeded in a conventional and orderly fashion. For delivering a leaflet to the inmate of a home, she was convicted in the Mayor's Court and was fined $10.00 on a charge of violating the following City ordinance:"It is unlawful for any person distributing handbills, circulars or other advertisements to ring the door bell, sound the door knocker, or otherwise summon the inmate or inmates of any residence to the door for the purpose of receiving such handbills, circulars or other advertisements they or any person with them may be distributing."The appellant admitted knocking at the door for the purpose of delivering the invitation, but seasonably urged in the lower Ohio state court that the ordinance as construed and applied was beyond the power of the State because in violation of the right of freedom of press and religion as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.[2]*143 The right of freedom of speech and press has broad scope. The authors of the First Amendment knew that novel and unconventional ideas might disturb the complacent, but they chose to encourage a freedom which they believed essential if vigorous enlightenment was ever to triumph over slothful ignorance.[3] This freedom embraces the right to distribute literature, Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, 452, and necessarily protects the right to receive it. The privilege may not be withdrawn even if it creates the minor nuisance for a community of cleaning litter from its streets. Schneider v. State, 308 U.S. 147, 162. Yet the peace, good order, and comfort of the community may imperatively require regulation of the time, place and manner of distribution. Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 304. No one supposes, for example, that a city need permit a man with a communicable disease to distribute leaflets on the street or to homes, or that the First Amendment prohibits a state from preventing the distribution of leaflets in a church against the will of the church authorities.

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The question presented here is whether the provisions of a Los Angeles City ordinance restricting the distribution of handbills "abridge the freedom of speech and of the press secured against state invasion by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution."[1] The ordinance, § 28.06 of the Municipal Code of the City of Los Angeles. provides:

"No person shall distribute any hand-bill in any place under any circumstances, which does not have *61 printed on the cover, or the face thereof, the name and address of the following:
"(a) The person who printed, wrote, compiled or manufactured the same.
"(b) The person who caused the same to be distributed; provided, however, that in the case of a fictitious person or club, in addition to such fictitious name, the true names and addresses of the owners, managers or agents of the person sponsoring said hand-bill shall also appear thereon."
The petitioner was arrested and tried in a Los Angeles Municipal Court for violating this ordinance. It was stipulated that the petitioner had distributed handbills in Los Angeles, and two of them were presented in evidence. Each had printed on it the following:National Consumers Mobilization,Box 6533,Los Angeles 55, Calif.

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We granted the writ in this case to consider the claim that an order of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, enjoining petitioners from distributing leaflets anywhere in the town of Westchester, Illinois, violates petitioners' rights under the Federal Constitution.

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The Fort Dix Military Reservation is a United States Army post located in a predominantly rural area of central New Jersey. Its primary mission is to provide basic combat training for newly inducted Army personnel. Accordingly, most of its 55 square miles are devoted to military training activities. The Federal Government exercises exclusive jurisdiction over the entire area within Fort Dix, including the state and county roads that pass through it.[1] Civilian vehicular traffic is permitted on paved roads within the reservation, and civilian pedestrian traffic is permitted on both roads and footpaths. Military police regularly patrol the roads within the reservation, and they occasionally stop civilians and ask them the reason for their presence. Signs posted on the roads leading into the reservation state: "All vehicles are subject to search while on the Fort Dix Military Reservation" and "Soliciting prohibited unless approved by the commanding general." The main entrances to Fort Dix are not normally guarded, and a sign at one of the entrances says "Visitors Welcome." Civilians are freely permitted to visit unrestricted areas of the reservation.

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Discovery Network, Inc., provides educational and other programs to adults in the Cincinnati area. It advertises these programs in free magazines. Approximately one-third of the magazines were distributed through 38 newsracks that the City of Cincinnati authorized it to place on public property in 1989. Harmon Publishing Company, Inc., similarly distributed magazines advertising real estate through 24 newsracks on public property. In 1990, the City revoked the permits that allowed Discovery and Harmon to use their newsracks, claiming that a City ordinance prohibited the distribution of "commercial handbills" on public property. Although the application of this ordinance removed only 62 of the more than 1,500 newsracks placed about the City, the City claimed that its action furthered important safety and aesthetic goals. Discovery and Harmon challenged the action in federal court, arguing that the City's action violated the First Amendment. The district court agreed, and the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. The First Amendment right of publishers to disseminate their product through newsracks is not absolute. A local governmental entity may regulate the placement and number of newsracks to promote its substantial interest in public safety and aesthetics, but that entity must establish a reasonable "fit" between its regulation and the goals sought to be achieved. Board of Trustees of State Univ. of N. Y. v. Fox, 492 U.S. 469 (1989). The government's right to regulate commercial speech speech that concerns only commercial or economic activity is greater than its right to regulate non-commercial speech. The government may regulate commercial speech if it is false or misleading or if the restriction directly and narrowly advances a substantial state interest. Central Hudson Gas & Elec. v. Public Serv. Comm. of N.Y., 447 U.S. 557 (1978).

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