The Supreme Court on Freedom of the Press: Decisions and Dissents

By William A. Hachten | Go to book overview

Chapter Ten
FREEDOM OF DISTRIBUTION

THE RIGHT to freely distribute printed materials without undue government interference is included in the broad concept of freedom of the press. As Justice Stephen Field pointed out in Ex parte Jackson in 1877: "Liberty of circulating is as essential to that freedom (of the press) as liberty of publishing; indeed, without the circulation, the publication would be of little value."

Periodicals, handbills, and tracts are often distributed by means other than the mails--by hand, on street corners, in book stores, from door-to-door. Using these methods, distributors occasionally run afoul of local government regulations restricting the place, time, and manner of distribution.


REASONABLE REGULATION IS NOT UNCONSTITUTIONAL

A variety of regulatory problems may be encountered: ordinances against littering, ordinances barring solicitors from going to a residence without prior permission, ordinances for public disclosure of subscription lists, and requirements that handbills carry the names and addresses of those preparing and distributing them. In such situations, legitimate police and health powers have to be reconciled with the right to distribute publications. The following decisions illustrate how the Supreme Court has dealt with these conflicting interests.


MARTIN V. STRUTHERS, 319 U.S. 141 (1943)

Thelma Martin, a member of Jehovah's Witnesses, was convicted in Mayor's Court in Struthers, Ohio, of violating an

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