Schneider v. New Jersey

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Schneider v. State of New Jersey
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued October 13, 16, 1939
Decided November 22, 1939
Full case name Schneider v. State of New Jersey (Town of Irvington)
Citations 308 U.S. 147 (more)
60 S. Ct. 146;84 L. Ed. 155;1939 U.S. LEXIS 1115;2 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P17,049;5 L.R.R.M. 659
Prior history Certiorari to the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals
Holding
The Court held that the purpose of the ordinances (to keep the streets clean and of good appearance) was insufficient to justify prohibiting defendants from handing out literature to other persons willing to receive it.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Roberts, joined by Hughes, Butler, Stone, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas
Dissent McReynolds
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend I, U.S. Const. amend. XIV

Schneider v. State of New Jersey, 308 U.S. 147 (1939), was a United States Supreme Court decision that combined four similar appeals (Schneider v. State of New Jersey (Town of Irvington), Young v. People of the State of California, Snyder v. City of Milwaukee, Nichols et al. v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts), each of which presented the question whether regulations embodied in municipal ordinances abridged the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and of the press secured against state invasion by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

The appellants (Jehovah's Witnesses) were charged with a violation of a local ordinance that barred persons from distributing handbills on public streets or handing them out door-to-door.

Decision[edit]

In 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the purpose of the ordinances to keep the streets clean and of good appearance was insufficient to justify prohibiting defendants from handing out literature to other persons willing to receive it. Any burden imposed upon the city authorities in cleaning and caring for the streets as an indirect consequence of such distribution resulted from the constitutional protection of the freedom of speech and press. Concerning the distribution of materials from house to house without a permit, the ordinance was void.

This right is not absolute, however. Municipalities may lawfully regulate the conduct of those using the streets, for the purpose of keeping them open and available for movement of people and property, so long as legislation to this end does not abridge the constitutional liberty of one rightfully upon the street to impart information through speech or the distribution of literature.

See also[edit]