Kovacs v. Cooper
Decided on Jan. 31, 1949; 336 US 77


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

A. Issues Discussed: Freedom of expression

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is the city ordinance, which prohibits "any person or corporation... to play, use or operate for advertising purpose... any sound truck, loud speaker or sound amplifier" on the streets of Trenton, in contravention of the rights of freedom of expression and association?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Petitioner was found guilty of violating a Trenton, New Jersey city ordinance which prohibited the operation on city streets of sound amplifiers or other instruments which produce "loud and raucous noises." The defendant was broadcasting loud music and spoke through an amplifier, apparently commenting on a labor dispute then in progress.

Petitioner's conviction by the police judge of the City of Trenton was upheld by the New Jersey Supreme Court. On appeal the US Supreme Court affirmed.

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. George Pellettieri, of Trenton, NJ, for appellant. Louis Josephson, of Trenton, NJ, for appellee.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"We think it is a permissible exercise of legislative discretion to bar sound trucks with broadcasts of public interest, amplified to a loud and raucous volume, from the public ways of municipalities... The right of free speech is guaranteed every citizen that he may reach the minds of willing listeners and to do so there must be opportunity to win their attention. This is the phase of freedom of speech that is involved here. We do not think the Trenton ordinance abridges that freedom. It is an extravagant extension of due process to say that because of it a city cannot forbid talking on the streets through a loud speaker in a loud and raucous tone.

Section 4 of the ordinance bars sound trucks from broadcasting in a loud and raucous manner on the streets. There is no restriction upon the communication of ideas or discussion of issues by the human voice, by newspapers, by pamphlets, by dodgers. We think that the need for reasonable protection in the homes or business houses from the distracting noises of vehicles equipped with such sound amplifying devices justifies the ordinance."

The US Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Justice Vote: 4 Pro vs. 5 Con

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

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment of the Supreme Court of New Jersey; the Supreme Court affirmed in a 4-5 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.