PRESS FREEDOM AND THE POST OFFICE
A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP has always existed between the Post Office and those who exercise their constitutional right to print and distribute publications. Historically, the Post Office has provided the essential service of distributing throughout the nation much of its news and information at low cost. In operating this service, the Post Office, through Congress's powers under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution to "establish post offices and post roads" and to make all laws necessary to carry out this function, retains considerable power of potential censorship over printed matter carried in the mails. This power stems from the belief, held by some, that the constitutional grant gives Congress unlimited authority to determine what can be mailed and for what price, and that the use of the mails is not a right but a favor, which can be granted or withheld at the will of those in charge.
So it was for nearly seventy years, from the case of Ex parte Jackson in 1877 until Hannegan v. Esquire in 1946. The Postmaster General did enjoy great power, mainly through his control of the second-class mailing privilege, which is indispensable to any publication's circulation by mail. If this privilege is denied, a paper or periodical has to pay substantially higher postage rates which places it at a disadvantage with competitors. Before the Esquire case, the privilege could be used to impose political, economic, religious, or literary orthodoxy on those using the mails.