Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444 (1938)

Docket Number:391

U.S. Supreme Court LOVELL v. CITY OF GRIFFIN, GA., 303 U.S. 444 (1938)

[Page 303 U.S. 444, 451]

license to distribute literature in this City. None of these people ( including defendant) secured a permit from me to distribute literature in the City of Griffin.' The ordinance is not limited to 'literature' that is obscene or offensive to public morals or that advocates unlawful conduct. There is no suggestion that the pamphlet and magazine distributed in the instant case were of that character. The ordinance embraces 'literature' in the widest sense.

The ordinance is comprehensive with respect to the method of distribution. It covers every sort of circulation 'either by hand or otherwise.' There is thus no restriction in its application with respect to time or place. It is not limited to ways which might be regarded as inconsistent with the maintenance of public order, or as involving disorderly conduct, the molestation of the inhabitants, or the misuse or littering of the streets. The ordinance prohibits the distribution of literature of any kind at any time, at any place, and in any manner without a permit from the city manager.

We think that the ordinance is invalid on its face. Whatever the motive which induced its adoption, its character is such that it strikes at the very foundation of the freedom of the press by subjecting it to license and censorship. The struggle for the freedom of the press was primarily directed against the power of the licensor. It was against that power that John Milton directed his assault by his 'Appeal for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing.' And the liberty of the press became initially a right to publish 'without a license what formerly could be published only with one.' [Footnote 1] While this freedom from previous restraint upon publication cannot be regarded as exhausting the guaranty of liberty, the prevention of that restraint was a leading purpose in the adoption of the

[Page 303 U.S. 444, 452]

constitutional provision. See Patterson v. Colorado, 205 U.S. 454, 462, 27 S.Ct. 556, 10 Ann.Cas. 689; Near v. Minnesota, , 713-716, 51 S.Ct. 625, 630; Grosjean v. American Press Company, 297 U.S. 233, 245, 246 S., 56 S.Ct. 444, 447. Legislation of the type of the ordinance in question would restore the system of license and censorship in its baldest form.

The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. These indeed have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty, as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine and others in our own history abundantly attest. The press in its connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion. What we have had recent occasion to say with respect to the vital importance of protecting this essential liberty from every sort of infringement need not be repeated. Near v. Minnesota, supra; Grosjean v. American Press Company, supra; De Jonge v. Oregon, supra. [Footnote 2]

[Page 303 U.S. 444, 453]

entitled to contest its validity in answer to the charge against her. Smith v. Cahoon, 283 U.S. 553, 562, 51 S.Ct. 582, 585

The judgment is reversed and the cause is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Reversed and remanded.

Mr. Justice CARDOZO took no part in the consideration and decision of this case. Footnotes

[Footnote *] Judgment conformed to 197 S.E. 347.[ Lovell v. City of Griffin, Ga. (1938) ]

Footnote 1 See Wickwar, 'The Struggle for the Freedom of the Press,' p. 15.

Footnote 2 See also, Star Co. v. Brush, 185 App.Div. 261, 172 N.Y.S. 851; Dearborn Publishing Company v. Fitzgerald, D.C., 271 F. 479; Ex parte Campbell, 64 Cal.App. 300, 221 P. 952; Coughlin v. Sullivan, 100 N.J.L. 42, 126 A. 177; Compare People v. Armstrong, 73 Mich. 288, 41 N.W. 275, 2 L.R. A. 721, 16 Am.St.Rep. 578; City of Chicago v. Schultz, 341 Ill. 208, 173 N. E. 276; People v. Armentrout, 118 Cal.App., Supp., 761, 1 P.2d 556.