Grosjean v. American Press Co., Inc.
297 U.S. 233 (1936)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Grosjean v. American Press Co., Inc., 297 U.S. 233 (1936)

Grosjean v. American Press Co., Inc.

No. 303

Argued January 14, 1936

Decided February 10, 1936.

297 U.S. 233

Syllabus

1. As respects the amount in controversy, the District Court has jurisdiction of a suit where the requisite value is involved as to each of several plaintiffs though not involved as to others. P. 297 U. S. 241.

2. A motion to dismiss the whole case because the amount in controversy as to some of the plaintiffs is too small should be overruled. Id.

3. There is equitable jurisdiction to enjoin collection of an allegedly unconstitutional state tax where the taxpayer, if he pays, is afforded no clear remedy of restitution. P. 297 U. S. 242.

4. Liberty of the press is a fundamental right protected against state aggression by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 297 U. S. 242.

5. The fact that, as regards the Federal Government, the protection of this right is not left to the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, but is guaranteed in specie by the First Amendment, is not a sufficient reason for excluding it from the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 297 U. S. 243.

6. A corporation is a "person" within the meaning of the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 297 U. S. 244.

7. A State license tax (La.Act No. 23, July 12, 1934) imposed on the owners of newspapers for the privilege of selling or charging for the advertising therein, and measured by a percent. of the gross receipts from such advertisements, but applicable only to newspapers enjoying a circulation of more than 20,000 copies per week, held unconstitutional. P. 297 U. S. 244.

8. From the history of the subject, it is plain that the English rule restricting freedom of the press to immunity from censorship before publication was not accepted by the American colonists, and that the First Amendment was aimed at any form of previous restraint upon printed publications or their circulation, including restraint by taxation of newspapers and their advertising, which were well known and odious methods still used in England when the First Amendment was adopted. P. 297 U. S. 245.

Page 297 U. S. 234

9. The predominant purpose of the grant of immunity was to preserve an untrammeled press as a vital source of public information. P. 297 U. S. 250.

10. Construction of a constitutional provision phrased in terms of the common law is not determined by rules of the common law which had been rejected in this country as unsuited to local civil or political conditions. P. 297 U. S. 248.

It is not intended in this case to suggest that the owners of newspapers are immune from any of the ordinary forms of taxation for support of Government. The tax in question is not an ordinary form of tax, but one single in kind, with a long history of hostile misuse against the freedom of the press. The manner of its use in this case is, in itself, suspicious; it is not measured or limited by the volume of advertisements, but by the extent of the circulation of the publication in which the advertisements are carried, with the plain purpose of penalizing the publishers and curtailing the circulation of a selected group of newspapers.

10 F.Supp. 161, affirmed.

APPEAL from a decree permanently enjoining the enforcement of a state tax on newspapers.

Page 297 U. S. 240

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