Breard v. Alexandria

341 U.S. 622
Breard v. Alexandria
Argued: March 7, 8, 1951
Decided: June 4, 1951


[Syllabus from pages 622-623 intentionally omitted]

Mr. E. Russell Shockley, Philadelphia, Pa., for appellant.

Mr. Frank H. Peterman, Alexandria, La., for appellee.

Mr. Justice REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

Dissenting Opinion

Mr. Justice BLACK, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS joins, dissenting.

On May 3, 1943, this Court held that cities and states could not enforce laws which impose flat taxes on the privilege of door-to-door sales of religious literature, Jones v. Opelika, 319 U.S. 103, 63 S.Ct. 890, 87 L.Ed. 1290; Murdock v. Com. of Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105, 63 S.Ct. 870, 87 L.Ed. 1292, or which make it unlawful for persons to go from home to home knocking on doors and ringing doorbells to invite occupants to religious, political or other kinds of public meetings. Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 63 S.Ct. 862, 87 L.Ed. 1313. Over strong dissents, these laws were held to invade liberty of speech, press and religion in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Today a new majority adopts the position of the former dissenters and sustains a city ordinance forbidding door-to-door solicitation of subscriptions to the Saturday Evening Post, Newsweek and other magazines. Since this decision cannot be reconciled with the Jones, Murdock and Martin v. Struthers cases, it seems to me that good judicial practice calls for their forthright overruling. But whether this is done or not, it should be plain that my disagreement with the majority of the Court as now constituted stems basically from a different concept of the reach of the constitutional liberty of the press rather than from any difference of opinion as to what former cases have held.

Today’s decision marks a revitalization of the judicial views which prevailed before this Court embraced the philosophy that the First Amendment gives a preferred status to the liberties it protects. I adhere to that preferred position philosophy. It is my belief that the freedom of the people of this Nation cannot survive even a little governmental hobbling of religious or political ideas, whether they be communicated orally or through the press.

The constitutional sanctuary for the press must necessarily include liberty to publish and circulate. In view of our economic system, it must also include freedom to solicit paying subscribers. Of course homeowners can if they wish forbid newsboys, reporters or magazine solicitors to ring their doorbells. But when the homeowner himself has not done this, I believe that the First Amendment, interpreted with due regard for the freedoms it guarantees, bars laws like the present ordinance which punish persons who peacefully go from door to door as agents of the press.

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