303 U.S. 444 (1938), 391, Lovell v. City of Griffin

Docket Nº:No. 391
Citation:303 U.S. 444, 58 S.Ct. 666, 82 L.Ed. 949
Party Name:Lovell v. City of Griffin
Case Date:March 28, 1938
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 444

303 U.S. 444 (1938)

58 S.Ct. 666, 82 L.Ed. 949

Lovell

v.

City of Griffin

No. 391

United States Supreme Court

March 28, 1938

Argued February 4, 1938

APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF GEORGIA

Syllabus

1. Whether a federal question was properly presented to and decided by a state court is itself a federal question, to be decided by this Court upon appeal. P. 450.

2. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which are protected by the First Amendment from infringement by Congress, are among the fundamental personal rights and liberties which are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by state action. P. 450.

3. Municipal ordinances adopted under state authority constitute state action within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 450.

4. A city ordinance forbidding as a nuisance the distribution, by hand or otherwise, of literature of any kind without first obtaining written permission from the City Manager violates the Fourteenth Amendment; strikes at the very foundation of the freedom of the press by subjecting it to license and censorship. P. 450.

So held as applied to distribution of pamphlets and magazines in the nature of religious tracts.

5. The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It embraces pamphlets and leaflets. P. 452.

6. One who is prosecuted for disobeying a license ordinance which is void on its face may contest its validity without having sought a permit under it. P. 452.

55 Ga.App. 609, 191 S.E. 152, reversed.

Appeal from a judgment affirming a sentence imposed for violation of a city ordinance. The Supreme Court of the State denied a review.

Page 447

HUGHES, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

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 Superior Court of the county refused sanction of a petition for review; the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court (55 Ga.App. 609, 191 S.E. 152), and the Supreme Court of the State denied an application for certiorari. The case comes here on appeal.

The ordinance in question is as follows:

Section 1. That the practice of distributing, either by hand or otherwise, circulars, handbooks, advertising, or literature of any kind, whether said articles are being delivered free, or whether same are being sold, within the limits of the City of Griffin, without first obtaining written permission from the City Manager of the City of Griffin, such practice shall be deemed a nuisance, and punishable as an offense against the City of Griffin.

Section 2. The Chief of Police of the City of Griffin and the police force of the City of Griffin are hereby required and directed to suppress the same and to abate

Page 448

any nuisance as is described in the first section of this ordinance.

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."

Upon the trial, with permission of the court, appellant demurred to the charge and moved to dismiss it upon a number of grounds, among which was the contention that the ordinance violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States in abridging "the freedom of the press" and prohibiting "the free exercise of petitioner's religion." This contention was thus expressed:

Because said ordinance is contrary to and in violation of the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Said ordinance is also contrary to and in violation of the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which had the effect of making the said first amendment applicable to the States, and which reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States, and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United

Page 449

States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within [58 S.Ct. 668] its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Said ordinance absolutely prohibits the distribution of any literature of any kind within the limits of the City of Griffin without the permission of the City Manager, and thus abridges the freedom of the press, contrary to the provisions of said quoted amendments.

Said ordinance also prohibits the free exercise of petitioner's religion and the practice thereof by prohibiting the distribution of literature about petitioner's religion in violation of the terms of said quoted amendments.

The Court of Appeals, overruling these objections, sustained the constitutional validity of the ordinance, saying:

The ordinance is not unconstitutional because it abridges the freedom of the press or prohibits the distribution of literature about the petitioner's religion,...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP