Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether a California state law that prohibits the release of arrestees' personal addresses if used for commercial purposes, but allows the release of such information for other purposes, violates the First Amendment.


Reversed. Petitioning party received a favorable disposition.


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).

Importance of Case

The U.S. Supreme Court viewed the California law as only a denial of access statute, rather than a restriction on commercial speech. At least for purposes of attacking the statute on its face, the high court determined that the First Amendment does not mandate a right of access to government information or information within the government's control. See Houchins v. KQED, Inc., 438 U.S. 1 (1978).

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