Talley v. California

362 U.S. 60
Talley v. California
Argued: January 13, 1960
Decided: March 7, 1960


Mr. A. L. Wirin, Los Angeles, Cal., for the petitioner.
Mr. Philip E. Grey, Los Angeles, Cal., for the respondent.
Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Opinion of the Court

The question presented here is whether the provisions of a Los Angeles City ordinance restricting the distribution of handbills ‘abridge the freedom of speech and of the press secured against state invasion by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.’ [1] The ordinance, § 28.06 of the Municipal Code of the City of Los Angeles, provides:

‘No person shall distribute any hand-bill in any place under any circumstances, which does not have printed on the cover, or the face thereof, the name and address of the following:

‘(a) The person who printed, wrote, compiled or manufactured the same.

‘(b) The person who caused the same to be distributed; provided, however, that in the case of a fictitious person or club, in addition to such fictitious name, the true names and addresses of the owners, managers or agents of the person sponsoring said hand-bill shall also appear thereon.’

The petitioner was arrested and tried in a Los Angeles Municipal Court for violating this ordinance. It was stipulated that the petitioner had distributed handbills in Los Angeles, and two of them were presented in evidence. Each had printed on it the following:

National Consumers Mobilization,

Box 6533,

Los Angeles 55, Calif.

Pleasant 9-1576.

The handbills urged readers to help the organization carry on a boycott against certain merchants and businessmen, whose names were given, on the ground that, as one set of handbills said, they carried products of ‘manufacturers who will not offer equal employment opportunities to Negroes, Mexicans, and Orientals.’ There also appeared a blank, which, if signed, would request enrollment of the signer as a ‘member of National Consumers Mobilization,’ and which was preceded by a statement that

‘I believe that every man should have an equal opportunity for employment no matter what his race, religion, or place of birth.’

The Municipal Court held that the information printed on the handbills did not meet the requirements of the ordinance, found the petitioner guilty as charged, and fined him $10. The Appellate Department of the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles affirmed the conviction, rejecting petitioner’s contention, timely made in both state courts, that the ordinance invaded his freedom of speech and press in violation of the Fourteenth and First Amendments to the Federal Constitution. [2] 172 Cal.App.2d Supp. 797, 332 P.2d 447. Since this was the highest state court available to petitioner, we granted certiorari to consider this constitutional contention. 360 U.S. 928, 79 S.Ct. 1457, 3 L.Ed.2d 1543.

In Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, 58 S.Ct. 666, 82 L.Ed. 949, we held void on its face an ordinance that comprehensively forbade any distribution of literature at any time or place in Griffin, Georgia, without a license. Pamphlets and leaflects it was pointed out, ‘have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty’ [3] and enforcement of the Griffin ordinance ‘would restore the system of license and censorship in its baldest form.’ Id., 303 U.S. at page 452, 58 S.Ct. at page 669. A year later we had before us four ordinances each forbidding distribution of leaflets-one in Irvington, New Jersey, one in Los Angeles, California, one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and one in Worcester, Massachusetts. Schneider v. State of New Jersey, Town of Irvington, 308 U.S. 147, 60 S.Ct. 146, 84 L.Ed. 155. Efforts were made to distinguish these four ordinances from the one held void in the Griffin case. The chief grounds urged for distinction were that the four ordinances had been passed to prevent either frauds, disorder, or littering, according to the records in these cases, and another ground urged was that two of the ordinances applied only to certain city areas. This Court refused to uphold the four ordinances on those grounds pointing out that there were other ways to accomplish these legitimate aims without abridging freedom of speech and press. Frauds, street littering and disorderly conduct could be denounced and punished as offenses, the Court said. Several years later we followed the Griffin and Schneider cases in striking down a Dallas, Texas, ordinance which was applied to prohibit the dissemination of information by the distribution of handbills. We said that although a city could punish any person for conduct on the streets if he violates a valid law, ‘one who is rightfully on a street * * * carries with him there as elsewhere the constitutional right to express his views in an orderly fashion * * * by handbills and literature as well as by the spoken word.’ Jamison v. State of Texas, 318 U.S. 413, 416, 63 S.Ct. 669, 672, 87 L.Ed. 869.

The broad ordinance now before us, barring distribution of ‘any hand-bill in any place under any circumstances,’ [4] falls precisely under the ban of our prior cases unless this ordinance is saved by the qualification that handbills can be distributed if they have printed on them the names and addresses of the persons who prepared, distributed or sponsored them. For, as in Griffin, the ordinance here is not limited to handbills whose content is ‘obscene or offensive to public morals or that advocates unlawful conduct.’ [5] Counsel has urged that this ordinance is aimed at providing a way to identify those responsible for fraud, false advertising and libel. Yet the ordinance is in no manner so limited, nor have we been referred to any legislative history indicating such a purpose. Therefore we do not pass on the validity of an ordinance limited to prevent these or any other supposed evils. This ordinance simply bars all handbills under all circumstances anywhere that do not have the names and addresses printed on them in the place the ordinance requires.

There can be no doubt that such an identification requirement would tend to restrict freedom to distribute information and thereby freedom of expression. ‘Liberty of circulating is as essential to that freedom as liberty of publishing; indeed, without the circulation, the publication would be of little value.’ Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. at page 452, 58 S.Ct. at page 669.

Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all. The obnoxious press licensing law of England, which was also enforced on the Colonies was due in part to the knowledge that exposure of the names of printers, writers and distributors would lessen the circulation of literature critical of the government. The old seditious libel cases in England show the lengths to which government had to go to find out who was responsible for books that were obnoxious to the rulers. John Lilburne was whipped, pilloried and fined for refusing to answer questions designed to get evidence to convict him or someone else for the secret distribution of books in England. Two Puritan Ministers, John Penry and John Udal, were sentenced to death on charges that they were responsible for writing, printing or publishing books. [6] Before the Revolutionary War colonial patriots frequently had to conceal their authorship or distribution of literature that easily could have brought down on them prosecutions by English-controlled courts. Along about that time the Letters of Junius were written and the identity of their author is unknown to this day. [7] Even the Federalist Papers, written in favor of the adoption of our Constitution, were published under fictitious names. It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes.

We have recently had occasion to hold in two cases that there are times and circumstances when States may not compel members of groups engaged in the dissemination of ideas to be publicly identified. Bates v. City of Little Rock, 361 U.S. 516, 80 S.Ct. 412; N.A.A.C.P. v. State of Alabama, 357 U.S. 449, 462, 78 S.Ct. 1163, 1171, 2 L.Ed.2d 1488. The reason for those holdings was that identification and fear of reprisal might deter perfectly peaceful discussions of public matters of importance. This broad Los Angeles ordinance is subject to the same infirmity. We hold that it, like the Griffin, Georgia, ordinance, is void on its face.

The judgment of the Appellate Department of the Superior Court of the State of California is reversed and the cause is remanded to it for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Judgment reversed and cause remanded with directions.


^1  Schneider v. State of New Jersey, Town of Irvington, 308 U.S. 147, 154, 60 S.Ct. 146, 147, 84 L.Ed. 155. Cf. Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, 450, 58 S.Ct. 666, 668, 82 L.Ed. 949.

^2  Petitioner also argues here that the ordinance both on its face and as construed and applied ‘arbitrarily denies petitioner equal protection of the laws in violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection’ Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. This argument is based on the fact that the ordinance applies to handbills only, and does not include within its proscription books, magazines and newspapers. Our disposition of the case makes it unnecessary to consider this contention.

^3  The Court’s entire sentence was: ‘These (pamphlets and leaflets) indeed have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty, as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine and others in our own history abundantly attest.’ It has been noted that some of Thomas Paine’s pamphlets were signed with pseudonyms. See Bleyer, Main Currents in the History of American Journalism (1927), 90-93. Illustrations of other anonymous and pseudonymous pamphlets and other writings used to discuss important public questions can be found in this same volume.

^4  Section 28.00 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code defines ‘hand-bill’ as follows: “Hand-bill’ shall mean any hand-bill, dodger, commercial advertising circular, folder, booklet, letter, card, pamphlet, sheet, poster, sticker, banner, notice or other written, printed or painted matter calculated to attract attention of the public.’

^5  Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. at page 451, 58 S.Ct. at page 668.

^6  Penry was executed and Udal died as a result of his confinement. 1 Hallam, The Constitutional History of England (1855), 205-206, 232.

^7  In one of the letters written May 28, 1770, the author asked the following question about the tea tax imposed on this country, a question which he could hardly have asked but for his anonymity:

‘What is it then, but an odious, unprofitable exertion of a speculative right, and fixing a badge of slavery upon the Americans, without service to their masters?’ 2 Letters of Junius (1821) 39.

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