397 U.S. 728 (1970), 399, Rowan v. United States Post Office Department

Docket Nº:No. 399
Citation:397 U.S. 728, 90 S.Ct. 1484, 25 L.Ed.2d 736
Party Name:Rowan v. United States Post Office Department
Case Date:May 04, 1970
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 728

397 U.S. 728 (1970)

90 S.Ct. 1484, 25 L.Ed.2d 736

Rowan

v.

United States Post Office Department

No. 399

United States Supreme Court

May 4, 1970

Argued January 22, 1970

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

Syllabus

Appellants, who are in the mail-order business, brought suit to enjoin the operation of 39 U.S.C. § 4009, challenging its constitutionality. That section provides that a person who has received by mail

a pandering advertisement which offers for sale matter which the addressee in his sole discretion believes to be erotically arousing or sexually provocative,

may request the Postmaster General to issue an order "directing the sender and his agents or assigns to refrain from further mailings to the named addressee." Such order would also require the sender to delete the addressee's name from his mailing lists, and would prohibit him from trading in lists from which the deletion has not been made. If the Postmaster General believes that his order has been violated, he may notify the sender of his belief and the reasons therefor, and must grant him an opportunity to respond and to have an administrative hearing on whether a violation has occurred. If the Postmaster General thereafter determines that the order has been violated, he may request the Attorney General to seek an order from a district court directing compliance with the prohibitory order. A three-judge court found that § 4009 was constitutional when interpreted to prohibit advertisements similar to those initially mailed to the addressee.

Held:

1. The statute allows the addressee unreviewable discretion to decide whether he wishes to receive any further material from a particular sender. Pp. 731-735.

2. A vendor does not have a constitutional right to send unwanted material into someone's home, and a mailer's right to communicate must stop at the mailbox of an unreceptive addressee. Pp. 735-738.

3. The statute comports with the Due Process Clause, as it provides for an administrative hearing if the sender violates the Postmaster General's prohibitory order, and a judicial hearing prior to issuance of any compliance order by a district court. Pp. 738-739.

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4. The statute doe not violate due process by requiring that the sender remove the complaining addressee' name from his mailing lists, nor is the statute unconstitutionally vague, as the sender knows precisely what he must do when he receives a prohibitory order. P. 740.

300 F.Supp. 1036, affirmed.

BURGER, J., lead opinion

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

Appellants challenge the constitutionality of Title III of the Postal Revenue and Federal Salary Act of 1967, 81 Stat. 645, 39 U.S.C. § 4009 (1964 ed., Supp. IV), under which a person may require that a mailer remove his name from its mailing lists and stop all future mailings to the householder. The appellants are publishers, distributors, owners, and operators of mail order houses, mailing list brokers, and owners and operators of mail service organizations whose business activities are affected by the challenged statute.

A brief description of the statutory framework will facilitate our analysis of [90 S.Ct. 1487] the questions raised in this appeal. Section 4009 is entitled "Prohibition of pandering advertisements in the mails." It provides a procedure

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whereby any householder may insulate himself from advertisements that offer for sale "matter which the addressee in his sole discretion believes to be erotically arousing or sexually provocative." 39 U.S.C. § 4009(a) (1964 ed., Supp. IV).1

Subsection (b) mandates the Postmaster General, upon receipt of a notice from the addressee specifying that he has received advertisements found by him to be within the statutory category, to issue on the addressee's request an order directing the sender and his agents or assigns to refrain from further mailings to the named addressee. Additionally, subsection (c) requires the Postmaster General to order the affected sender to delete the name of the designated addressee from all mailing lists owned or controlled by the sender and prohibits the sale, rental, exchange, or other transactions involving mailing lists bearing the name of the designated addressee.

If the Postmaster General has reason to believe that an order issued under this section has been violated, subsection (d) authorizes him to notify the sender by registered or certified mail of his belief and the reasons therefor, and grant him an opportunity to respond and have a hearing on whether a violation has occurred.

If the Postmaster General thereafter determines that the order has been or is being violated, he is authorized to request the Attorney General to seek an order from a United States District Court directing compliance with the prohibitory order. Subsection (e) grants to the district court jurisdiction to issue a compliance order upon application of the Attorney General.

Appellants initiated an action in the United States District Court for the Central District of California upon

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a complaint and petition for declaratory relief on the ground that 39 U.S.C. § 4009 (1964 ed., Supp. IV) is unconstitutional. They alleged that they had received numerous prohibitory orders pursuant to the provisions of the statute. Appellants contended that the section violates their rights of free speech and due process guaranteed by the First and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Additionally, appellants argued that the section is unconstitutionally vague, without standards, and ambiguous.

A three-judge court was convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284 and it determined that the section was constitutional when interpreted to prohibit advertisements similar to those initially mailed to the addressee.2 300 F.Supp. 1036.

The District Court construed subsections (b) and (c) to prohibit "advertisements similar" to those initially mailed to the addressee. Future mailings, in the view of the District Court, "are to be measured by the objectionable material of such first mailing." 300 F.Supp. at 1041. In our view, Congress did not intend so restrictive a scope to those provisions.

I. BACKGROUND AND CONGRESSIONAL OBJECTIVES

Section 4009 was a response to public and congressional concern with use of mail facilities to distribute unsolicited advertisements that recipients found to be offensive because of their lewd and [90 S.Ct. 1488] salacious character. Such mail was found to be pressed upon...

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