Martin v. City of Struthers, Ohio
Decided on May 3, 1943; 319 US 141


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:

Does a city, consistent with the federal Constitution's guarantee of free speech and press, possesse "the power to prohibit door-to-door distribution of "handbills, circulars or advertisements?"

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"The appellant, espousing a religious cause in which she was interested-that of the Jehovah's Witnesses-went to the homes of strangers, knocking on doors and ringing doorbells in order to distribute to the inmates of the homes leaflets advertising a religious meeting. In doing so, she proceeded in a conventional and orderly fashion." 

She was convicted 'in the Mayor's Court' and fined $10.00 for violating a city ordinance which made it illegal to distribute door-to-door any "handbills, circulars or other advertisements."

The US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court below.

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 appellant. Messrs. Theodore T. Macejko and David C. Haynes, both of Youngstown, Ohio, for appellee.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"The ordinance does not control anything but the distribution of literature, and in that respect it substitutes the judgment of the community for the judgment of the individual householder. It submits the distributer to criminal punishment for annoying the person on whom he calls, even though the recipient of the literature distributed is in fact glad to receive it.

In any case the problem must be worked out by each community for itself with due respect for the constitutional rights of those desiring to distribute literature and those desiring to receive it, as well as those who choose to exclude such distributers from the home.

The Struthers ordinance does not safeguard these constitutional rights... We conclude that the ordinance is invalid because [it is] in conflict with the freedom of speech and press."

The US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court below.

Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 4 Con

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

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment of the court below; the Supreme Court reversed in a 5-4 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win .