Opinions & Commentaries

New York City has adopted an ordinance which makes it unlawful to hold public worship meetings on the streets *291 without first obtaining a permit from the city police commissioner.[1] Appellant, Carl Jacob Kunz, was convicted and fined $10 for violating this ordinance by holding a religious meeting without a permit. The conviction was *292 affirmed by the Appellate Part of the Court of Special Sessions, and by the New York Court of Appeals, three judges dissenting, 300 N. Y. 273, 90 N. E. 2d 455 (1950). The case is here on appeal, it having been urged that the ordinance is invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment.

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Having been led by both parties and the state of the record to treat as the sole issue before it on the merits the question whether Alabama could constitutionally compel petitioner to produce its membership lists in court, the Supreme Court reversed a decision of the Supreme Court of Alabama sustaining a conviction of contempt for failing to do so. 357 U. S. 357 U.S. 449. On remand of the case to the Supreme Court of Alabama for proceedings not inconsistent with the opinion of this Court, the State Supreme Court "again affirmed" the contempt conviction and fine which this Court had set aside -- on the ground that the Supreme Court was "mistaken" in considering that petitioner had complied with the production order except as to its membership lists.

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This case originated in companion suits by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Inc. (NAACP), and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (Defense Fund), brought in 1957 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The suits sought to restrain the enforcement of Chapters 31, 32, 33, 35 and 36 of the Virginia Acts of Assembly, 1956 Extra Session, on the ground that the *418 statutes, as applied to the activities of the plaintiffs, violated the Fourteenth Amendment. A three-judge court convened pursuant to 28 U. S. C. ง 2281, after hearing evidence and making fact-findings, struck down Chapters 31, 32 and 35 but abstained from passing upon the validity of Chapters 33 and 36 pending an authoritative interpretation of these statutes by the Virginia courts.[1] The complainants thereupon petitioned in the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond to declare Chapters 33 and 36 inapplicable to their activities, or, if applicable, unconstitutional. The record in the Circuit Court was that made before the three-judge court supplemented by additional evidence. The Circuit Court held the chapters to be both applicable and constitutional. The holding was sustained by the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals as to Chapter 33, but reversed as to Chapter 36, which was held unconstitutional under both state and federal law.[2] Thereupon the Defense Fund returned to the Federal District Court, where its case is presently pending, while the NAACP filed the instant petition. We granted certiorari, 365 U. S. 842.[3] We heard argument in the 1961 Term *419 and ordered reargument this Term. 369 U. S. 833. Since no cross-petition was filed to review the Supreme Court of Appeals' disposition of Chapter 36, the only issue before us is the constitutionality of Chapter 33 as applied to the activities of the NAACP.

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Alleging noncompliance with Alabama's corporate registration and business qualification laws, the State in 1956 brought ouster proceedings against the petitioner, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a New York membership corporation with an office in Alabama and doing business there, and it was barred under an ex parte restraining order from operating in the State. Before any hearing on the merits, a contempt judgment, which the State Supreme Court on procedural grounds refused to review, was rendered against the NAACP for failure to produce its membership lists and other records under court order. Without reaching the validity of the underlying restraining order, this Court reversed, and, following reinstatement by the State Supreme Court of the contempt judgment, reversed again. In 1960, the NAACP, still prohibited from operating in Alabama, sued in a federal court alleging failure by the Alabama courts to afford it a hearing on the merits. The case reached this Court a third time, and, in 1961, was remanded with instructions that the Federal District Court be directed to try the case on the merits unless the State did so by a certain time. The State Circuit Court then heard the case; found that the NAACP had violated the State's constitution and laws; and permanently enjoined it from doing business in the State. The State Supreme Court affirmed, solely on the basis of a procedural rule, which it applied to the NAACP's brief, that where unrelated assignments of error are argued together and one is without merit, the others will not be considered.

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Appellants, a civil rights organization and its executive director, brought suit in Federal District Court, in which other individuals later joined, for injunctive and declaratory relief to restrain appellees from prosecuting or threatening to prosecute them under Louisiana's Subversive Activities and Communist Control Law and Communist Propaganda Control Law, which they alleged violated their rights of free expression under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Appellants contended that the statutes were excessively broad and susceptible of application in violation of those rights, and were being used by appellees in bad faith, not to secure valid convictions, but to deter appellants' civil rights efforts. Appellants alleged and offered to prove the arrest of the individual appellants under the statutes, the raiding of their offices and illegal seizure of their records, with continued threats of prosecution after invalidation by a state court of the arrests and seizure of evidence preceding this action. A three-judge District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, also holding that abstention was appropriate pending a possible narrowing.construction by the state courts which would avoid unnecessary constitutional adjudication. Thereafter, appellants alleged, the individual appellants were indicted under the Subversive Activities and Communist Control Law. They also claimed that there was no prospect of final state adjudications either under those indictments or under threatened additional prosecutions.

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Appellee challenged a Georgia statute providing that "[a]ny person who shall, without provocation, use to or of another, and in his presence . . . opprobrious words or abusive language, tending to cause a breach of the peace . . . shall be guilty of a misdemeanor," and had not been narrowed by the Georgia courts to apply only to "fighting" words "which by their very utterance . . . tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace," was on its face unconstitutionally vague and overbroad under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

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414 U.S. 2 (1973) PLUMMER v. CITY OF COLUMBUS.   No. 72-6897. Supreme Court of United States.   Decided October 15, 1973. ON APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF OHIO FOR FRANKLIN COUNTY.PER CURIAM. The Court of Appeals of Franklin County, Ohio, in an unreported opinion, affirmed appellant’s conviction of violating Columbus City Code § 2327.03, which provides: “No person shall abuse another by using menacing, insulting, slanderous, or profane language.” The Ohio Supreme Court, in an unreported order, sua sponte dismissed appellant’s appeal to that court “for the reason that no substantial constitutional question exists herein.” We grant […]

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Appellee Howard Levy, a physician, was a captain in the Army stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. *736 He had entered the Army under the so-called "Berry Plan,"[1] under which he agreed to serve for two years in the Armed Forces if permitted first to complete his medical training. From the time he entered on active duty in July 1965 until his trial by court-martial, he was assigned as Chief of the Dermatological Service of the United States Army Hospital at Fort Jackson. On June 2, 1967, appellee was convicted by a general court-martial of violations of Arts. 90, 133, and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and sentenced to dismissal from the service, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for three years at hard labor.

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As part of its regulation of the Arizona Bar, the Supreme Court of that State has imposed and enforces a disciplinary rule that restricts advertising by attorneys. This case presents two issues: whether §§ 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U. S. C. §§ 1 and 2, forbid such state regulation, and whether the operation of the rule violates the First Amendment, made applicable to the States through the Fourteenth.[1]

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In Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U. S. 350 (1977), this Court held that truthful advertising of "routine" legal services is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments against *449 blanket prohibition by a State. The Court expressly reserved the question of the permissible scope of regulation of "in-person solicitation of clients—at the hospital room or the accident site, or in any other situation that breeds undue influence—by attorneys or their agents or `runners.'" Id., at 366. Today we answer part of the question so reserved, and hold that the State—or the Bar acting with state authorization— constitutionally may discipline a lawyer for soliciting clients in person, for pecuniary gain, under circumstances likely to pose dangers that the State has a right to prevent.

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The issue in this case is the validity under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of a municipal ordinance prohibiting the solicitation of contributions by charitable organizations that do not use at least 75 percent of their receipts for "charitable purposes," those purposes being defined to exclude solicitation expenses, salaries, overhead, and other administrative expenses. The Court of Appeals held the ordinance unconstitutional. We affirm that judgment.

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Section 28.04 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code prohibits the posting of signs on public property.[1] The question presented *792 is whether that prohibition abridges appellees' freedom of speech within the meaning of the First Amendment.[2]In March 1979, Roland Vincent was a candidate for election to the Los Angeles City Council. A group of his supporters known as Taxpayers for Vincent (Taxpayers) entered into a contract with a political sign service company known as Candidates' Outdoor Graphics Service (COGS) to fabricate and post signs with Vincent's name on them. COGS produced 15- by 44-inch cardboard signs and attached them to utility poles at various locations by draping them over crosswires *793 which support the poles and stapling the cardboard together at the bottom. The signs' message was: "Roland Vincent — City Council."Acting under the authority of § 28.04 of the Municipal Code, employees of the city's Bureau of Street Maintenance routinely removed all posters attached to utility poles and similar objects covered by the ordinance, including the COGS signs. The weekly sign removal report covering the period March 1-March 7, 1979, indicated that among the 1,207 signs removed from public property during that week, 48 were identified as "Roland Vincent" signs. Most of the other signs identified in that report were apparently commercial in character.[3]On March 12, 1979, Taxpayers and COGS filed this action in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, naming the city, the Director of the Bureau of Street Maintenance, and members of the City Council as defendants.[4] They sought an injunction against enforcement of the ordinance as well as compensatory and punitive damages. After engaging in discovery, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the issue of liability. The District Court entered findings of fact, concluded that the ordinance was constitutional, and granted the City's motion.

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The question in these cases is whether the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit erred in invalidating in its entirety a Washington statute aimed at preventing and punishing the publication of obscene materials.

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The issue presented in this case is whether a resolution banning all "First Amendment activities" at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) violates the First Amendment.

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491 U.S. 576 (1989) MASSACHUSETTS v. OAKES No. 87-1651. Supreme Court of United States. Argued January 17, 1989 Decided June 21, 1989 CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS *578 James M. Shannon, Attorney General of Massachusetts, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Phyllis N. Segal and A. John Pappalardo, Deputy Attorneys General, and Madelyn F. Wessel, Judy G. Zeprun, and H. Reed Witherby, Assistant Attorney General. Richard J. Vita argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.[*] JUSTICE O’CONNOR announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which THE […]

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The issue before us is the constitutionality of § 223(b) of the Communications Act of 1934. 47 U. S. C. § 223(b) (1982 ed., Supp. V). The statute, as amended in 1988, imposes an outright ban on indecent as well as obscene interstate commercial telephone messages. The District Court upheld the prohibition against obscene interstate telephone communications for commercial purposes, but enjoined the enforcement of the statute insofar as it applied to indecent messages. We affirm the District Court in both respects.

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493 U.S. 215 (1990) FW/PBS, INC., DBA PARIS ADULT BOOKSTORE II, ET AL. v. CITY OF DALLAS ET AL.     No. 87-2012. Supreme Court of United States.    Argued October 4, 1989 Decided January 9, 1990[*] CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT*219 John H. Weston argued the cause for petitioners in all cases. With him on the briefs for petitioners in No. 87-2051 were G. Randall Garrou, Cathy E. Crosson, and Richard L. Wilson. Arthur M. Schwartz filed briefs for petitioners in No. 87-2012. Frank P. Hernandez filed a brief for petitioners in […]

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In order to combat child pornography, Ohio enacted Rev. Code Ann. § 2907.323(A)(3) (Supp. 1989), which provides in pertinent part:

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After several violent confrontations between civil rights marchers and local residents, the Forsyth (Georgia) County Board of Commissioners enacted an ordinance that permitted the county administrator to adjust the fee charged for a parade permit, up to a maximum of $1,000, to reflect the estimated cost of maintaining public order during the parade. In January 1989, The Nationalist Movement applied for a permit to demonstrate in opposition to the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. The county charged a $100 fee that did include any calculation for expenses incurred by law enforcement authorities. The Movement challenged the fee in federal court. The federal district court rejected the challenge. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the arbitrary fee violated the First Amendment. A government may regulate competing uses of public forums, such as streets and sidewalks, by imposing permit requirements on those who wish to hold rallies, parades, and marches. Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569 (1941). The regulatory scheme, however, must not delegate overly broad licensing discretion to a government official, must be content-neutral, must be narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and must leave open ample alternative channels for communication. United States v. Grace, 461 U.S. 171 (1983); Freedman v. Maryland, 380 U.S. 51 (1965).

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A Florida state court ordered that antiabortion protestors could not demonstrate within 36 feet of an abortion clinic, make loud noises within earshot of the clinic, display images observable from the clinic, approach patients within 300 feet of the clinic, and demonstrate within 300 feet of the residence of any clinic employee. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the injunction in its entirety. When speech in a public forum is prohibited because of its content, the state must be able to demonstrate that the regulation is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental issue. Perry Education Assn. v. Perry Local Educators' Assn., 460 U.S. 37 (1983). If the regulation is neutral as to the speaker's content, the regulation need only be a reasonable restriction on the time, place, or manner of the speech. Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781 (1989).

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The Communications Decency Act of 1996 ("CDA"), 47 U.S.C. § 223, prohibits the transmission of indecent and patently offensive materials to minors over the Internet. A number of civil rights and computer groups challenged the constitutionality of these provisions on First Amendment grounds. In essence, these groups argued that the inability of Internet users and providers to verify the age of information recipients effectively prevented them from engaging in indecent speech, which traditionally has received significant First Amendment protection. After a lengthy evidentiary hearing that included many online demonstrations, a special three-judge district court (which was created by the CDA to hear the expected constitutional challenges) agreed with the groups and ruled that the provisions violated the First Amendment. Indecent speech, unlike obscenity, is entitled to constitutional protection because it often has substantial social value and lacks prurient interest. Sable Communications v. FCC, 492 U.S. 115 (1989). This speech therefore cannot be regulated unless the restrictions are justified by a compelling governmental interest and are narrowly tailored to advance that interest. Turner Broadcasting System v. FCC, 114 S. Ct. 2445 (1994). The Court already has held that the government has a compelling interest in protecting minors from indecent speech. Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629 (1968). The Court also has held that the government may prohibit dissemination of indecent materials to minors as long it does not at the same time prohibit dissemination to adults. FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978).

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In 1996, California law was amended to prohibit the release of the addresses of persons arrested if the information would be used for commercial purposes. The same law allowed the release of such information if used for a "scholarly, journalistic, political or governmental purpose" or for "investigative purposes" by a licensed investigator. Both lower courts ruled the law unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. Laws that burden commercial speech must advance a substantial governmental interest in a direct and material way and be narrowly drawn. Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Comm'n of New York, 447 U.S. 557 (1980). "Neither the First Amendment nor the Fourteenth Amendment mandates a right of access to government information or sources of information within the government's control." Houchins v. KQED, Inc., 438 U.S. 1 (1978).

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Congress enacted 18 U. S. C. §48 to criminalize the commercial creation, sale, or possession of certain depictions of animal cruelty. The statute addresses only portrayals of harmful acts, not the underlying conduct. It applies to any visual or auditory depiction “in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed,” if that conduct violates federal or state law where “the creation, sale, or possession takes place,” §48(c)(1). Another clause exempts depictions with “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value.” §48(b). The legislative background of §48 focused primarily on “crush videos,” which feature the torture and killing of helpless animals and are said to appeal to persons with a specific sexual fetish. Respondent Stevens was indicted under §48 for selling videos depicting dogfighting.

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February 15, 2017

Overbreadth is a supremely important concept in First Amendment law and a key tool for constitutional litigators. A law is too broador overbroadwhen it not only covers speech that ought to be proscribed but also penalizes speech that should be safeguarded.   

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