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Opinion of the Court.

362 L'.S.

tributed or sponsored them. For, as in Griffin, the ordinance here is not limited to handbills whose content is “obscene or offensive to public morals or that advocates unlawful conduct." 5 Counsel has urged that this ordinance is aimed at providing a way to identify those responsible for fraud, false advertising and libel. Yet the ordinance is in no manner so limited, nor have we been referred to any legislative history indicating such a purpose. Therefore we do not pass on the validity of an ordinance limited to prevent these or any other supposed evils. This ordinance simply bars all handbills under all circumstances anywhere that do not have the names and addresses printed on them in the place the ordinance requires.

There can be no doubt that such an identification requirement would tend to restrict freedom to distribute information and thereby freedom of expression. “Liberty of circulating is as essential to that freedom as liberty of publishing; indeed, without the circulation, the publication would be of little value.” Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U. S., at 452.

Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all. The obnoxious press licensing law of England, which was also enforced on the Colonies was due in part to the knowledge that exposure of the names of printers, writers and distributors would lessen the circulation of literature critical of the government. The old seditious libel cases in England show the lengths to which government had to go to find out who was responsible for books that were obnoxious

5 Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U. S., at 451.


Opinion of the Court.

to the rulers. John Lilburne was whipped, pilloried and fined for refusing to answer questions designed to get evidence to convict him or someone else for the secret distribution of books in England. Two Puritan Ministers, John Penry and John Udal, were sentenced to death on charges that they were responsible for writing, printing or publishing books. Before the Revolutionary War colonial patriots frequently had to conceal their authorship or distribution of literature that easily could have brought down on them prosecutions by English-controlled courts. Along about that time the Letters of Junius were written and the identity of their author is unknown to this day. Even the Federalist Papers, written in favor of the adoption of our Constitution, were published under fictitious names. It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes.

We have recently had occasion to hold in two cases that there are times and circumstances when States may not compel members of groups engaged in the dissemination of ideas to be publicly identified. Bates v. Little Rock, 361 U. S. 516; N. A. A. C. P. v. Alabama, 357 U. S. 449, 462. The reason for those holdings was that identification and fear of reprisal might deter perfectly peaceful discussions of public matters of importance. This broad Los Angeles ordinance is subject to the same infirmity. We hold that it, like the Griffin, Georgia, ordinance, is void on its face.


Penry was executed and Udal died as a result of his confinement. 1 Hallam, The Constitutional History of England (1855), 205–206, 232.

? In one of the letters written May 28, 1770, the author asked the following question about the tea tax imposed on this country, a question which he could hardly have asked but for his anonymity: "What is it then, but an odious, unprofitable exertion of a speculative right, and fixing a badge of slavery upon the Americans, without service to their masters ?” 2 Letters of Junius (1821) 39.

HARLAN, J., concurring.

362 U.S.

The judgment of the Appellate Department of the Superior Court of the State of California is reversed and the cause is remanded to it for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, concurring.

In judging the validity of municipal action affecting rights of speech or association protected against invasion by the Fourteenth Amendment, I do not believe that we can escape, as Mr. Justice Roberts said in Schneider v. State, 308 U. S. 147, 161, "the delicate and difficult task” of weighing "the circumstances” and appraising "the substantiality of the reasons advanced in support of the regulation of the free enjoyment of" speech. More recently we have said that state action impinging on free speech and association will not be sustained unless the governmental interest asserted to support such impingement is compelling. See N. A. A. C. P. V. Alabama, 357 U. S. 449, 463, 464; Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U. S. 234, 265 (concurring opinion); see also Bates v. Little Rock, 361 U. S. 516.

Here the State says that this ordinance is aimed at the prevention of "fraud, deceit, false advertising, negligent use of words, obscenity, and libel,” in that it will aid in the detection of those responsible for spreading material of that character. But the ordinance is not so limited, and I think it will not do for the State simply to say that the circulation of all anonymous handbills must be suppressed in order to identify the distributors of those that may be of an obnoxious character. In the absence of a more substantial showing as to Los Angeles' actual experience with the distribution of obnoxious handbills,* such a

*On the oral argument the City Attorney stated:

“We were able to find out that prior to 1931 an effort was made by the local Chamber of Commerce, urging the City Council to do


CLARK, J., dissenting.

generality is for me too remote to furnish a constitutionally acceptable justification for the deterrent effect on free speech which this all-embracing ordinance is likely to have.

On these grounds I concur in the judgment of the Court.


To me, Los Angeles' ordinance cannot be read as being void on its face. Certainly a fair reading of it does not permit a conclusion that it prohibits the distribution of handbills "of any kind at any time, at any place, and in any manner,Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U. S. 444, 451 (1938), as the Court seems to conclude. In Griffin, the ordinance completely prohibited the unlicensed distribution of any handbills. As I read it, the ordinance here merely prohibits the distribution of a handbill which does not carry the identification of the name of the person who “printed, wrote, compiled . . . manufactured (or) . . . caused” the distribution of it. There could well be a compelling reason for such a requirement. The Court implies as much when it observes that Los Angeles has not “referred

something about these handbills and advertising matters which were false and misleading—had no names of sponsors. They were particularly interested in the fictitious name. They said, 'Who are these people that are distributing; who are advertising; doing things of that sort ?' The meager record that we were able to find indicates that a request from the Council to the City Attorney as to their legal opinion on this subject [sic]. The City Attorney wrote back and formed the conclusion that distribution of handbills, pamphlets, or other matters, without the name of the fictitious firm or officers would be legal [sic]. Thereafter in the early part of 1932 an ordinance was drafted, and submitted to the City Council, and approved by them, which related to the original subject-unlawful for any person, firm or association to distribute in the city of Los Angeles any advertisement or handbill—or any other matter which does not have the names of the sponsors of such literature.”

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to any legislative history indicating” that the ordinance was adopted for the purpose of preventing "fraud, false advertising and libel.” But even as to its legislative background there is pertinent material which the Court overlooks. At oral argument, the City's chief law enforcement officer stated that the ordinance was originally suggested in 1931 by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce in a complaint to the City Council urging it to "do something about these handbills and advertising matters which were false and misleading." Upon inquiry by the Council, he said, the matter was referred to his office, and the Council was advised that such an ordinance as the present one would be valid. He further stated that this ordinance, relating to the original inquiry of the Chamber of Commerce, was thereafter drafted and submitted to the Council. It was adopted in 1932. In the face of this and the presumption of validity that the ordinance enjoys, the Court nevertheless strikes it down, stating that it “falls precisely under the ban of our prior cases." This cannot follow, for in each of the three cases cited, the ordinances either "forbade any distribution of literature ... without a license,Lovell v. Griffin, supra, or forbade, without exception, any distribution of handbills on the streets, Jamison v. Texas, 318 U. S. 413 (1943); or, as in Schneider v. State, 308 U. S. 147 (1939), which covered different ordinances in four cities, they were either outright bans or prior restraints upon the distribution of handbills. I, therefore, cannot see how the Court can conclude that the Los Angeles ordinance here “falls precisely” under any of these cases. On the contrary, to my mind, they neither control this case nor are apposite to it. In fact, in Schneider, depended upon by the Court, it was held, through Mr. Justice Roberts, that, “In every case . . . where legislative abridgment of the rights is asserted, the courts should be astute to examine the effect of the challenged legislation


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