Lovell v. City of Griffin
Decided on Mar. 28, 1938; 303 US 444


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Free speech

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is a city ordinance that prohibits the distribution of "circulars, handbooks, advertising, or literature of any kind" without written permission from the city manager, unconstitutional?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Alma Lovell was a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Following her beliefs, she tried passing religious pamphlets on the streets of Griffin, Georgia, where she was promptly arrested and fined because she did not obtain a permit for distribution of printed material from the city, as required by a city ordinance, which mandated that one must obtain a permit prior to distributing any printed material, newspaper or otherwise, within city limits.

Georgia Court of Appeals found that the law was neutral in its intentions, meant only to regulate the use of city streets, and therefore any religious hardships on Lovell were unintentional. Her fine was allowed to stand.

On appeal the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals judgment.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable
Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Brief of amici curiae urging reversal was filed by Francis Biddle and Osmond K. Fraenkel, on behalf of the American Liberties Union

O. R. Moyle argued the cause for appellant

Hughes Spalding and Sumter M. Kelley argued the cause for appellee.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"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...

The ordinance prohibits the distribution of literature of any kind at any time, at any place, and in any manner without a permit from the city manager.

We think that the ordinance is invalid on its face. Whatever the motive which induced its adoption, its character is such that it strikes at the very foundation of the freedom of the press by subjecting it to license and censorship... As the ordinance is void on its face, it was not necessary for appellant to seek a permit under it."

The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals judgment.

Justice Vote: 8 Pro vs. 0 Con
(Unanimous Decision for Petitioner/Appellant)
    • Hughes, C. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
    • McReynolds, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
    • Brandeis, L. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
    • Butler, P. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
    • Stone, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Roberts, O. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Reed, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Cardozo, B. took no part in the decision
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the Court of Appeal's Judgment; the Supreme Court reversed in a 8-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.