Schneider v. State of New Jersey
Decided Nov. 22, 1939; 308 US 147


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

A. Issues Discussed: Freedom of speech

B. Legal Question Presented:

Do regulations embodied in a municipal ordinance abridge the freedom of speech and of the press secured against state intereference by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

The Court regrouped four cases related to the regulation of dissemination of information through city ordinances.

"Three cases (13, 18, 29) concerned city ordinances which, in order to prevent street littering, regulated the distribution of any written material in public places. In a fourth case (11) the ordinance required that a person who wished to "canvass, solicit, distribute circulars, or other matter, or call from house to house" needed to obtain a written permit from the Chief of Police."

The Supreme Court held that the ordinances constituted unlawful regulation of speech and reversed the judgments of the lower courts.

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)
(case 11) Messrs. Joseph F. Rutherford and Olin R. Moyle both of Brooklyn, N.Y., for petitioner; (case 13) Messrs. Osmond K. Fraenkel, of New York City, and A. L. Wirin, of Los Angeles, Cal., for appellant; (case 18) Mr. A. W. Richter, of Milwaukee, Wis., for petitioner; (case 29) Messrs. Sidney S. Grant, of Boston, Mass., and Osmond K. Fraenkel, of New York City, for appellants. (case 11) Mr. Robert I. Morris, of Newark, N.J., for respondent; (case 13) Messrs. Frederick von Schrader, Ray L. Chesebro, Leon T. David, and Bourke Jones, all of Los Angeles, Cal., for appellee; (case 18) Mr. Carl F. Zeidler, of Milwaukee, Wis., for respondent; (case 29) Messrs. Edward O. Proctor and Paul A. Dever, both of Boston, Mass., for appellee.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

In three cases discussing city ordinances that sought to prevent littering of the streets, the Court stated that "the purpose to keep the streets clean and of good appearance is insufficient to justify an ordinance which prohibits a person rightfully on a public street from handing literature to one willing to receive it. Any burden imposed upon the city authorities in cleaning and caring for the streets as an indirect consequence of such distribution results from the constitutional protection of the freedom of speech and press."

In the case of the Irvington ordinance which required a written permit from the chief of police to distribute circulars, the court held that "a municipality cannot... require all who wish to disseminate ideas to present them first to police authorities for their consideration and approval, with a discretion in the police to say some ideas may, while others may not, be carried to the homes of citizens; some persons may, while others may not, disseminate information from house to house."

The courts below upheld the validity of the ordinances while the Supreme Court reversed each judgment of the courts below.

Justice Vote: 7 Pro vs. 1 Con

  • Roberts, O. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Frankfurter, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stone, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Reed, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Hughes, C. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H, C. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • McReynolds, J. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Vacant seat
    V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

    The ACLU, as attorney of record for petitioners, urged reversal of the judgments of the lower courts; the Supreme Court reversed in a 7-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.