Rescue Army v. Municipal Court of Los Angeles
331 U.S. 549 (1947)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Rescue Army v. Municipal Court of Los Angeles, 331 U.S. 549 (1947)

Rescue Army v. Municipal Court of Los Angeles

No. 574

Argued February 6, 7, 1947

Decided June 9, 1947

331 U.S. 549

Syllabus

Being charged in a municipal court in California on two counts with violations of three sections of a municipal code governing the solicitation of contributions for charity, which sections incorporated by reference numerous other sections of an intricate and ambiguous chapter, appellants sued for a writ of prohibition to test the jurisdiction of the trial court, claiming that the code unduly abridged the free exercise of their religion contrary to the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In an opinion which ambiguously incorporated by reference parts of its opinion in another case involving a wider range of issues, the Supreme Court of California sustained the validity of the code and the jurisdiction of the municipal court without clearly identifying or construing the relevant provisions of the code or passing upon questions of local procedure necessarily involved.

Held:

1. The State Supreme Court's judgment is "final" within the meaning of § 237(a) of the Judicial Code, and this Court has jurisdiction of an appeal therefrom. Bandini Co. v. Superior Court,284 U. S. 8; Bryant v. Zimmerman,278 U. S. 63; Plessy v. Ferguson,163 U. S. 537, followed. Gospel Army v. Los Angeles, ante, p. 331 U. S. 543, distinguished. Pp. 331 U. S. 556-568.

2. This Court, pursuant to long-settled policy in disposition of constitutional questions, declines to exercise its jurisdiction to pass upon the constitutional issues raised in the appeal, since they are presented in a highly abstract and speculative form and the State Supreme Court has not clearly interpreted the numerous ambiguous and interdependent provisions of the intricate chapter out of which they arise. Pp. 331 U. S. 574-585.

3. Decision of the constitutional questions by this Court should await the determination which necessarily will be made in the further proceedings in the municipal court whether, in the first count, appellants have been charged independently or alternatively under two subsections. Pp. 331 U. S. 576-577.

4. In a case such as this, the jurisdiction of this Court to adjudicate constitutional issues should be exerted only when they are presented in clean-cut and concrete form, unclouded by any serious

Page 331 U. S. 550

problem of construction relating either to the terms of the questioned legislation or to its interpretation by the state courts. P. 331 U. S. 584.

5. The appeal is dismissed without prejudice to the determination in the future of any issues arising under the Federal Constitution from further proceedings in the municipal court. Pp. 331 U. S. 584-585.

28 Cal.2d 460, 171 P.2d 8, appeal dismissed without prejudice.

The Supreme Court of California denied a writ of prohibition to test the jurisdiction of a municipal court to try appellants for alleged violations of a municipal code governing the solicitation of contributions for charity, which they challenged as unduly abridging the free exercise of their religion contrary to the First and Fourteenth Amendments. 28 Cal.2d 460, 171 P.2d 8. Appeal dismissed, without prejudice to the determination in the future of any issues arising under the Federal Constitution from further proceedings in the municipal court. P. 331 U. S. 585.

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