Jones v. City of Opelika
Decided on May 3, 1943; 319 US 105


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

A. Issues Discussed: Freedom of religion

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is the requirement that missionaries, whose activities include the distribution, for a fee, of religious material, pay a license tax pursuant to a city ordinance, a violation of their constitutional rights?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

The terms of the ordinance of the city of Jeannette were similar to the terms of the ordinances in the other cases before the Supreme Court. The Jeannette ordinance provided notably that any person "canvassing for or soliciting... orders for goods, paintings, pictures, wares, or merchandise of any kind" had to obtain a license and pay a flat license tax. And "[i]n all of these cases the issuance of the permit or license is dependent on the payment of a license tax. And the license tax is fixed in amount and unrelated to the scope of the activities of petitioners or to their realized revenues."

"Petitioners are 'Jehovah's Witnesses'. They went about from door to door in the City of Jeannette distributing literature and soliciting people to 'purchase' certain religious books and pamphlets... None of them obtained a license under the ordinance...

Petitioners were convicted and fined for violation of the ordinance. Their judgments of conviction were sustained by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, against their contention that the ordinance deprived them of the freedom of speech, press, and religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Petitions for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania were denied. The cases are here on petitions for writs of certiorari which we granted along with the petitions for rehearing of Jones v. Opelika, 316 U.S. 584 , and its companion cases."

The Supreme Court vacated its judgment in Jones, 316 U.S. 584, and reversed the judgments of the lower courts in all 11 cases.

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)
Mr. Hayden C. Covington, of Brooklyn, N.Y., for petitioners. Mr. Fred B. Trescher, of Greensburg, Pa., for respondent.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion are available to all, not merely to those who can pay their own way." "The tax imposed by the City of Jeannette is a flat license tax, the payment of which is a condition of the exercise of these constitutional privileges. The power to tax the exercise of a privilege is the power to control or suppress its enjoyment. [It] is indeed as potent as the power of censorship which this Court has repeatedly struck down."

"A state may not impose a charge for the enjoyment of a right granted by the federal constitution."

On June 8, 1942, the Supreme Court had issued an opinion in Jones v. City of Opelika, 316 U.S. 584, affirming the lower courts' judgments. The following term, on May 3, 1943, it granted a petition for rehearing (319 U.S. 103) for all three cases grouped under Jones "[b]ecause the issues in all three cases [Jones] were of the same character as those brought before us [Murdock]," the Court re-heard the arguments for Jones along with the arguments for Murdock et al.

The Supreme Court then vacated its previous judgment in Jones and reversed the state courts judgments in all 11 cases above.

Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 4 Con

  • Douglas, W. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Murphy, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rutledge, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stone, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Reed, S. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Roberts, O. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Frankfurter, F. Con (Joined dissenting opinion, wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Jackson, R. Con (Joined dissenting opinion, wrote dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as attorney of record for two petitioners that are parties in a case under Jones, urged reversal of the State Courts' Judgments; the Supreme Court vacated its previous ruling in Jones and reversed in a 5-4 vote all 11 cases, giving the ACLU an apparent win .