Schneider v. State of New Jersey Town of Irvington Young v. People of State of California Snyder v. City of Milwaukee Nichols v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts 29 13 8212 16, 1939

Citation60 S.Ct. 146,84 L.Ed. 155,308 U.S. 147
Decision Date22 November 1939
Docket NumberNos. 11,13,18,s. 11
PartiesSCHNEIDER v. STATE OF NEW JERSEY (TOWN OF IRVINGTON). YOUNG v. PEOPLE OF STATE OF CALIFORNIA. SNYDER v. CITY OF MILWAUKEE. NICHOLS et al. v. COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS. , and 29. Argued and Submitted Oct. 13—16, 1939
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Joseph F. Rutherford and Olin R. Moyle both of Brooklyn, N.Y., for petitioner.

Mr. Robert I. Morris, of Newark, N.J., for respondent.

No. 13:

Messrs. Osmond K. Fraenkel, of New York City, and A. L. Wirin, of Los Angeles, Cal., for appellant.

Messrs. Frederick von Schrader, Ray L. Chesebro, Leon T. David, and Bourke Jones, all of Los Angeles, Cal., for appellee.

No. 18:

[Argument of Counsel from pages 149-151 intentionally omitted] Mr. A. W. Richter, of Milwaukee, Wis., for petitioner.

Mr. Carl F. Zeidler, of Milwaukee, Wis., for respondent.

No. 29:

[Argument of Counsel from Page 152 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Sidney S. Grant, of Boston, Mass., and Osmond K. Fraenkel, of New York City, for appellants.

Messrs. Edward O. Proctor and Paul A. Dever, both of Boston, Mass., for appellee.

Mr. Justice ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Four cases are here, each of which presents the question whether regulations embodied in a municipal ordinance abridge the freedom of speech and of the press secured against state invasion by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, U.S.C.A.1

No. 13.

The Municipal Code of the City of Los Angeles, 1936, provides:

'Sec. 28.00. 'Hand-Bill' shall mean any hand-bill, dodger, commercial advertising circular, folder, booklet, letter, card, pamphlet, sheet, poster, sticker, banner, notice or other written, printed or painted matter calculated to attract attention of the public.'

'Sec. 2801. No person shall distribute any hand-bill to or among pedestrians along or upon any street, sidewalk or park, or to passengers on any street car, or throw, place or attach any hand-bill in, to or upon any automobile or other vehicle.'

The appellant was charged in the Municipal Court with a violation of Sec. 28.01. Upon his trial it ws proved that he distributed handbills to pedestrians on a public sidewalk and had more than three hundred in his possession for that purpose. Judgment of conviction was entered and sentence imposed. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County affirmed the judgment.2 That court being the highest court in the State authorized to pass upon such a case, an appeal to this court was allowed.

The handbill which the appellant was distributing bore a notice of a meeting to be held under the auspices of 'Friends Lincoln Brigade' at which speakers would discuss the war in Spain.

The court below sustained the validity of the ordinance on the ground that experience shows littering of the streets results from the indiscriminate distribution of handbills.3 It held that the right of free expression is not absolute but subject to reasonable regulation and that the ordinance does not transgress the bounds of reasonableness. Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, 58 S.Ct. 666, 82 L.Ed. 949, was distinguished on the ground that the ordinance there in question prohibited distribution anywhere within the city while the one involved forbids distribution in a very limited number of places.

No. 18.

An ordinance of the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, provides: 'It is hereby made unlawful for any person * * * to * * * throw * * * paper * * * or to circulate or distribute any circular, hand-bills, cards, posters, dodgers, or other printed or advertising matter * * * in or upon any sidewalk, street, alley, wharf, boat landing, dock or ther public place, park or ground within the City of Milwaukee.'

The petitioner, who was acting as a picket, stood in the street in front of a meat market and distributed to passing pedestrians hand-bills which pertained to a labor dispute with the meat market, set forth the position of organized labor with respect to the market, and asked citizens to refrain from patronizing it. Some of the bills were thrown in the street by the persons to whom they were given and it resulted that many of the papers lay in the gutter and in the street. The police officers who arrested the petitioner and charged him with a violation of the ordinance did not arrest any of those who received the bills and threw them away. The testimony was that the action of the officers accorded with a policy of the police department in enforcement of the ordinance to the effect that, when such distribution resulted in littering of the streets, the one who was the cause of the littering, that is, he who passed out the bills, was arrested rather than those who received them and afterwards threw them away. The Milwaukee County court found the petitioner guilty and fined him. On appeal the judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court.4

The court held that the purpose of the ordinance was to prevent an unsightly, untidy, and offensive condition of the sidewalks. It distinguished Lovell v. City of Griffin, supra, on the ground that the ordinance there considered manifestly was not aimed at prevention of littering of the streets. The court approved the administrative construction of the ordinance by the police officials and felt that this construction sustained its validity. The court said: 'Unless and until delivery of the handbills was shown to result in a littering of the streets their distribution was not interfered with.'

No. 29.

An ordinance of the City of Worcester, Massachusetts, provides: 'No person shall distribute in, or place upon any street or way, any placard, handbill, flyer, poster, advertisement or paper of any description.'

The appellants distributed in a street leaflets announcing a protest meeting in connection with the administration of State unemployment insurance. They did not throw any of the leaflets on the sidewalk or scatter them. Some of those to whom the leaflets were handed threw them on the sidewalk and the street, with the result that some thirty were lying about.

The appellants were arrested and charged with a violation of the ordinance. The Superior Court of Worcester County rendered a judgment of conviction and imposed sentence. The Supreme Judicial Court overruled exceptions.5 That court held the ordinance a valid regulation of the use of the streets and sought thus to distinguish it from the one involved in Lovell v. City of Griffin, supra, which the court said was not such a regulation. Referring to the ordinance the court said: 'It interferes in no way with the publication of anything in the city of Worcester, except only that it excludes the public streets and ways from the places available for free distribution. It leaves open for such distribution all other places in the city, public and private.'

No. 11.

An ordinance of the Town of Irvington, New Jersey, provides: 'No person except as in this ordinance provided shall canvass, solicit, distribute circulars, or other matter, or call from house to house in the Town of Irvington without first having reported to and received a written permit from the Chief of Police or the officer in charge of Police Headquarters.' It further enacts that a permit to canvass shall specify the number of hours or days it will be in effect; that the canvasser must make an application giving his name, address, age, height, weight, place of birth, whether or not previously arrested or convicted of crime, by whom employed, address of employer, clothing worn, and description of project for which he is can- vassing; that each applicant shall be fingerprinted and photographed; that the Chief of Police shall refuse a permit in all cases where the application, or further investigation made at the officer's discretion, shows that the canvasser is not of good character or is canvassing for a project not free from fraud; that canvassing may only be done between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M.; that the canvasser must furnish a photograph of himself which is to be attached to the permit; that the permittee must exhibit the permit to any police officer or other person upon request, must be courteous to all persons in canvassing, must not importune or annoy the town's inhabitants or conduct himself in an unlawful manner and must, at the expiration of the permit, surrender it at police headquarters. Persons delivering goods, merchandise, or other articles in the regular course of business to the premises of persons ordering, or entitled to receive the same, are exempted from the operation of the ordinance. Violation is punishable by fine or imprisonment.

The petitioner was arrested and charged with canvassing without a permit. The proofs show that she is a member of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and, as such, certified by the society to be one of 'Jehovah's Witnesses'. In this capacity she called from house to house in the town at all hours of the day and night and showed to the occupants a so called testimony and identification card signed by the society. The card stated that she would leave some booklets discussing problems affecting the person interviewed; and that, by contributing a small sum, that person would make possible the printing of more booklets which could be placed in the hands of others. The card certified that the petitioner was an ordained minister sent forth by the society, which is organized to preach the gospel of God's kingdom, and cited passages from the Bible with respect to the obligation so to preach. The petitioner left, or offered to leave, the books or booklets with the occupants of the houses visited. She did not apply for, or obtain, a permit pursuant to the ordinance because she conscientiously believed that so to do would be an act of disobedience to the command of Almighty God.

The petitioner was convicted in the Recorder's Court. The Court of Common Pleas affirmed the judgment. On a further appeal the Supreme Court affirmed...

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