Over petitioner's protest that it invaded his freedom of speech
and press in violation of the Fourteenth and First Amendments to
the Federal Constitution, he was convicted of violating a city
ordinance which forbade distribution, in any place under any
circumstances, of any handbill which did not have printed thereon
the name and address of the person who prepared, distributed or
the ordinance is void on its face, and the
conviction is reversed. Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U.
. Pp. 362 U. S.
App. 2d Supp. 797
, 332 P.2d 447, reversed.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question presented here is whether the provisions of a Los
Angeles City ordinance restricting the distribution of handbills
"abridge the freedom of speech and of the press secured against
state invasion by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution."
] The ordinance, §
28.06 of the Municipal Code of the City of Los Angeles,
"No person shall distribute any handbill in any place under any
circumstances, which does not have
Page 362 U. S. 61
printed on the cover, or the face thereof, the name and address
of the following:"
"(a) The person who printed, wrote, compiled or manufactured the
"(b) The person who caused the same to be distributed; provided,
however, that in the case of a fictitious person or club, in
addition to such fictitious name, the true names and addresses of
the owners, managers or agents of the person sponsoring said
handbill shall also appear thereon."
The petitioner was arrested and tried in a Los Angeles Municipal
Court for violating this ordinance. It was stipulated that the
petitioner had distributed handbills in Los Angeles, and two of
them were presented in evidence. Each had printed on it the
"National Consumers Mobilization,"
"Los Angeles 55, Calif."
The handbills urged readers to help the organization carry on a
boycott against certain merchants and businessmen, whose names were
given, on the ground that, as one set of handbills said, they
carried products of "manufacturers who will not offer equal
employment opportunities to Negroes, Mexicans, and Orientals."
There also appeared a blank which, if signed, would request
enrollment of the signer as a "member of National Consumers
Mobilization," and which was preceded by a statement that "I
believe that every man should have an equal opportunity for
employment no matter what his race, religion, or place of
The Municipal Court held that the information printed on the
handbills did not meet the requirements of the ordinance, found the
petitioner guilty as charged, and fined him $10. The Appellate
Department of the Superior
Page 362 U. S. 62
Court of the County of Los Angeles affirmed the conviction,
rejecting petitioner's contention, timely made in both state
courts, that the ordinance invaded his freedom of speech and press
in violation of the Fourteenth and First Amendments to the Federal
Constitution. [Footnote 2
App. 2d Supp. 797
, 332 P.2d 447. Since this was the highest
state court available to petitioner, we granted certiorari to
consider this constitutional contention. 360 U.S. 928.
In Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U. S. 444
held void on its face an ordinance that comprehensively forbade any
distribution of literature at any time or place in Griffin,
Georgia, without a license. Pamphlets and leaflets, it was pointed
out, "have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty,"
] and enforcement of
the Griffin ordinance "would restore the system of license and
censorship in its baldest form." Id.
at 303 U. S. 452
A year later, we had before us four ordinances each forbidding
distribution of leaflets -- one in Irvington, New Jersey, one in
Los Angeles, California, one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and one
Page 362 U. S. 63
in Worcester, Massachusetts. Schneider v. State,
308 U. S. 147
Efforts were made to distinguish these four ordinances from the one
held void in the Griffin
case. The chief grounds urged for
distinction were that the four ordinances had been passed to
prevent either frauds, disorder, or littering, according to the
records in these cases, and another ground urged was that two of
the ordinances applied only to certain city areas. This Court
refused to uphold the four ordinances on those grounds, pointing
out that there were other ways to accomplish these legitimate aims
without abridging freedom of speech and press. Frauds, street
littering, and disorderly conduct could be denounced and punished
as offenses, the Court said. Several years later we followed the
cases in striking down a
Dallas, Texas, ordinance which was applied to prohibit the
dissemination of information by the distribution of handbills. We
said that, although a city could punish any person for conduct on
the streets if he violates a valid law,
"one who is rightfully on a street . . . carries with him there
as elsewhere the constitutional right to express his views in an
orderly fashion . . . by handbills and literature as well as by the
Jamison v. Texas, 318 U. S. 413
318 U. S.
The broad ordinance now before us, barring distribution of "any
handbill in any place under any circumstances," [Footnote 4
] falls precisely under the ban of
our prior cases unless this ordinance is saved by the qualification
that handbills can be distributed if they have printed on them the
names and addresses of the persons who prepared, distributed
Page 362 U. S. 64
or sponsored them. For, as in Griffin,
here is not limited to handbills whose content is "obscene or
offensive to public morals or that advocates unlawful conduct."
] Counsel has urged
that this ordinance is aimed at providing a way to identify those
responsible for fraud, false advertising and libel. Yet the
ordinance is in no manner so limited, nor have we been referred to
any legislative history indicating such a purpose. Therefore, we do
not pass on the validity of an ordinance limited to prevent these
or any other supposed evils. This ordinance simply bars all
handbills under all circumstances anywhere that do not have the
names and addresses printed on them in the place the ordinance
There can be no doubt that such an identification requirement
would tend to restrict freedom to distribute information, and
thereby freedom of expression.
"Liberty of circulating is as essential to that freedom as
liberty of publishing; indeed, without the circulation, the
publication would be of little value."
Lovell v. Griffin,
303 U.S. at 303 U. S.
Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have
played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted
groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been
able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously
or not at all. The obnoxious press licensing law of England, which
was also enforced on the Colonies, was due in part to the knowledge
that exposure of the names of printers, writers and distributors
would lessen the circulation of literature critical of the
government. The old seditious libel cases in England show the
lengths to which government had to go to find out who was
responsible for books that were obnoxious
Page 362 U. S. 65
to the rulers. John Lilburne was whipped, pilloried, and fined
for refusing to answer questions designed to get evidence to
convict him or someone else for the secret distribution of books in
England. Two Puritan Ministers, John Penry and John Udal, were
sentenced to death on charges that they were responsible for
writing, printing or publishing books. [Footnote 6
] Before the Revolutionary War colonial patriots
frequently had to conceal their authorship or distribution of
literature that easily could have brought down on them prosecutions
by English-controlled courts. Along about that time, the Letters of
Junius were written, and the identity of their author is unknown to
this day. [Footnote 7
] Even the
Federalist Papers, written in favor of the adoption of our
Constitution, were published under fictitious names. It is plain
that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive
We have recently had occasion to hold in two cases that there
are times and circumstances when States may not compel members of
groups engaged in the dissemination of ideas to be publicly
identified. Bates v. Little Rock, 361 U.
; NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.
, 357 U. S. 462
The reason for those holdings was that identification and fear of
reprisal might deter perfectly peaceful discussions of public
matters of importance. This broad Los Angeles ordinance is subject
to the same infirmity. We hold that it, like the Griffin, Georgia,
ordinance, is void on its face.
Page 362 U. S. 66
The judgment of the Appellate Department of the Superior Court
of the State of California is reversed, and the cause is remanded
to it for further proceedings not inconsistent with this
It is so ordered.
Schneider v. State, 308 U. S. 147
308 U. S. 154
Cf. Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U. S. 444
303 U. S.
Petitioner also argues here that the ordinance, both on its face
and as construed and applied, "arbitrarily denies petitioner equal
protection of the laws in violation of the Due Process and Equal
Protection" Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. This argument is
based on the fact that the ordinance applies to handbills only, and
does not include within its proscription books, magazines and
newspapers. Our disposition of the case makes it unnecessary to
consider this contention.
The Court's entire sentence was:
"These [pamphlets and leaflets] indeed have been historic
weapons in the defense of liberty, as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine
and others in our own history abundantly attest."
It has been noted that some of Thomas Paine's pamphlets were
signed with pseudonyms. See
Bleyer, Main Currents in the
History of American Journalism (1927) 90-93. Illustrations of other
anonymous and pseudonymous pamphlets and other writings used to
discuss important public questions can be found in this same
Section 28.00 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code defines
"handbill" as follows:
"'Hand-bill' shall mean any handbill, dodger, commercial
advertising circular, folder, booklet, letter, card, pamphlet,
sheet, poster, sticker, banner, notice or other written, printed or
painted matter calculated to attract attention of the public."
Lovell v. Griffin,
303 U.S. at 303 U. S.
Penry was executed, and Udal died as a result of his
confinement. 1 Hallam, The Constitutional History of England (1855)
In one of the letters, written May 28, 1770, the author asked
the following question about the tea tax imposed on this country, a
question which he could hardly have asked but for his
"What is it then, but an odious, unprofitable exertion of a
speculative right, and fixing a badge of slavery upon the
Americans, without service to their masters?"
2 Letters of Junius (1821) 39.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, concurring.
In judging the validity of municipal action affecting rights of
speech or association protected against invasion by the Fourteenth
Amendment, I do not believe that we can escape, as Mr. Justice
Roberts said in Schneider v. New Jersey, 308 U.
, 308 U. S. 161
"the delicate and difficult task" of weighing "the circumstances"
and appraising "the substantiality of the reasons advanced in
support of the regulation of the free enjoyment of" speech. More
recently we have said that state action impinging on free speech
and association will not be sustained unless the governmental
interest asserted to support such impingement is compelling.
See NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U. S. 449
357 U. S.
-464; Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.
, 354 U. S. 265
(concurring opinion); see also Bates v. Little Rock,
361 U. S. 516
Here, the State says that this ordinance is aimed at the
prevention of "fraud, deceit, false advertising, negligent use of
words, obscenity, and libel," in that it will aid in the detection
of those responsible for spreading material of that character. But
the ordinance is not so limited, and I think it will not do for the
State simply to say that the circulation of all anonymous handbills
must be suppressed in order to identify the distributors of those
that may be of an obnoxious character. In the absence of a more
substantial showing as to Los Angeles' actual experience with the
distribution of obnoxious handbills, *
Page 362 U. S. 67
generality is for me too remote to furnish a constitutionally
acceptable justification for the deterrent effect on free speech
which this all-embracing ordinance is likely to have.
On these grounds, I concur in the judgment of the Court.
* On the oral argument the City Attorney stated:
"We were able to find out that, prior to 1931, an effort was
made by the local Chamber of Commerce, urging the City Council to
do something about these handbills and advertising matters which
were false and misleading -- had no names of sponsors. They were
particularly interested in the fictitious name. They said, 'Who are
these people that are distributing; who are advertising; doing
things of that sort?' The meager record that we were able to find
indicates that a request from the Council to the City Attorney as
to their legal opinion on this subject [sic
]. The City
Attorney wrote back and formed the conclusion that distribution of
handbills, pamphlets, or other matters, without the name of the
fictitious firm or officers would be legal [sic
Thereafter, in the early part of 1932, an ordinance was drafted and
submitted to the City Council, and approved by them, which related
to the original subject -- unlawful for any person, firm or
association to distribute in the city of Los Angeles any
advertisement or handbill -- or any other matter which does not
have the names of the sponsors of such literature."
MR. JUSTICE CLARK, whom MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER and MR. JUSTICE
WHITTAKER join, dissenting.
To me, Los Angeles' ordinance cannot be read as being void on
its face. Certainly a fair reading of it does not permit a
conclusion that it prohibits the distribution of handbills "of any
kind at any time at any place, and in any manner," Lovell v.
Griffin, 303 U. S. 444
303 U. S. 451
(1938), as the Court seems to conclude. In Griffin,
ordinance completely prohibited the unlicensed distribution of any
handbills. As I read it, the ordinance here merely prohibits the
distribution of a handbill which does not carry the identification
of the name of the person who "printed, wrote, compiled . . .
manufactured [or] . . . caused" the distribution of it. There could
well be a compelling reason for such a requirement. The Court
implies as much when it observes that Los Angeles has not
Page 362 U. S. 68
to any legislative history indicating" that the ordinance was
adopted for the purpose of preventing "fraud, false advertising and
libel." But, even as to its legislative background, there is
pertinent material which the Court overlooks. At oral argument, the
City's chief law enforcement officer stated that the ordinance was
originally suggested in 1931 by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce
in a complaint to the City Council urging it to "do something about
these handbills and advertising matters which were false and
misleading." Upon inquiry by the Council, he said, the matter was
referred to his office, and the Council was advised that such an
ordinance as the present one would be valid. He further stated that
this ordinance, relating to the original inquiry of the Chamber of
Commerce, was thereafter drafted and submitted to the Council. It
was adopted in 1932. In the face of this and the presumption of
validity that the ordinance enjoys, the Court nevertheless strikes
it down, stating that it "falls precisely under the ban of our
prior cases." This cannot follow, for, in each of the three cases
cited, the ordinances either "forbade any distribution of
literature . . . without a license," Lovell v. Griffin,
or forbade, without exception, any distribution of
handbills on the streets, Jamison v. Texas, 318 U.
; or, as in Schneider v. New Jersey,
308 U. S. 147
(1939), which covered different ordinances in four cities, they
were either outright bans or prior restraints upon the distribution
of handbills. I therefore cannot see how the Court can conclude
that the Los Angeles ordinance here "falls precisely" under any of
these cases. On the contrary, to my mind, they neither control this
case nor are apposite to it. In fact, in Schneider,
depended upon by the Court, it was held, through Mr. Justice
"In every case . . . where legislative abridgment of the rights
is asserted, the courts should be astute to examine the effect of
the challenged legislation . . . ,
Page 362 U. S. 69
weigh the circumstances, and . . . appraise the substantiality
of the reasons advanced. . . ."
at 308 U. S. 161
The Court here, however, makes no appraisal of the circumstances,
or the substantiality of the claims of the litigants, but strikes
down the ordinance as being "void on its face." I cannot be a party
to using such a device as an escape from the requirements of our
cases, the latest of which was handed down only last month.
Bates v. Little Rock, 361 U. S. 516
Therefore, before passing upon the validity of the ordinance, I
would weigh the interests of the public in its enforcement against
the claimed right of Talley. The record is barren of any claim,
much less proof, that he will suffer any injury whatever by
identifying the handbill with his name. Unlike NAACP v.
Alabama, 357 U. S. 449
(1958), which is relied upon, there is neither allegation nor proof
that Talley or any group sponsoring him would suffer "economic
reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion [or]
other manifestations of public hostility." Id.
357 U. S. 462
Talley makes no showing whatever to support his contention that a
restraint upon his freedom of speech will result from the
enforcement of the ordinance. The existence of such a restraint is
necessary before we can strike the ordinance down.
But even if the State had this burden, which it does not, the
substantiality of Los Angeles' interest in the enforcement of the
ordinance sustains its validity. Its chief law enforcement officer
says that the enforcement of the ordinance prevents "fraud, deceit,
false advertising, negligent use of words, obscenity, and libel,"
and, as we have said, that such was its purpose. In the absence
Page 362 U. S. 70
any showing to the contrary by Talley, this appears to me
I stand second to none in supporting Talley's right of free
speech -- but not his freedom of anonymity. The Constitution say
nothing about freedom of anonymous speech. In fact, this Court has
approved laws requiring no less than Los Angeles' ordinance. I
submit that they control this case, and require its approval under
the attack made here. First, Lewis Publishing Co. v.
Morgan, 229 U. S. 288
(1913), upheld an Act of Congress requiring any newspaper using the
second-class mails to publish the names of its editor, publisher,
owner, and stockholders. 39 U.S.C. § 233. Second, in the Federal
Regulation of Lobbying Act, 2 U.S.C. § 267, Congress requires those
engaged in lobbying to divulge their identities and give "a modicum
of information" to Congress. United States v. Harriss,
347 U. S. 612
347 U. S. 625
(1954). Third, the several States have corrupt practices acts
outlawing, inter alia,
the distribution of anonymous
publications with reference to political candidates. [Footnote 2/2
] While these statutes are
leveled at political campaign and election practices, the
underlying ground sustaining their validity applies with equal
No civil right has a greater claim to constitutional protection
or calls for more rigorous safeguarding than voting rights. In this
area, the danger of coercion and reprisals -- economic and
otherwise -- is a matter of common knowledge. Yet these statutes,
disallowing anonymity in promoting one's views in election
campaigns, have expressed the overwhelming public policy of the
Nation. Nevertheless, the Court is silent about this impressive
authority relevant to the disposition of this case.
Page 362 U. S. 71
All three of the types of statutes mentioned are designed to
prevent the same abuses -- libel, slander, false accusations, etc.
The fact that some of these statutes are aimed at elections,
lobbying, and the mails makes their restraint no more palatable,
nor the abuses they prevent less deleterious to the public
interest, than the present ordinance.
All that Los Angeles requires is that one who exercises his
right of free speech through writing or distributing handbills
identify himself, just as does one who speaks from the platform.
The ordinance makes for the responsibility in writing that is
present in public utterance. When and if the application of such an
ordinance in a given case encroaches on First Amendment freedoms,
then will be soon enough to strike that application down. But no
such restraint has been shown here. After all, the public has some
rights against which the enforcement of freedom of speech would be
"harsh and arbitrary in itself." Kovacs v. Cooper,
336 U. S. 77
336 U. S. 88
(1949). We have upheld complete proscription of uninvited
door-to-door canvassing as an invasion of privacy. Breard v.
Alexandria, 341 U. S. 622
(1951). Is this less restrictive than complete freedom of
distribution -- regardless of content -- of a signed handbill? And
commercial handbills may be declared verboten, Valentine v.
Chrestensen, 316 U. S. 52
(1942), regardless of content or identification. Is Talley's
anonymous handbill, designed to destroy the business of a
commercial establishment, passed out at its very front door, and
attacking its then lawful commercial practices, more comportable
with First Amendment freedoms? I think not. Before we may expect
international responsibility among nations, might not it be well to
require individual responsibility at home.? Los Angeles' ordinance
does no more.
Contrary to petitioner's contention, the ordinance, as applied,
does not arbitrarily deprive him of equal protection
Page 362 U. S. 72
of the law. He complains that handbills are singled out, while
other printed media -- books, magazines, and newspapers -- remain
"[t]he problem of legislative classification is a perennial one,
admitting of no doctrinaire definition. Evils in the same field may
be of different dimensions and proportions, requiring different
remedies. . . . Or the reform may take one step at a time,
addressing itself to the phase of the problem which seems most
acute to the legislative mind. . . . The prohibition of the Equal
Protection Clause goes no further than the invidious
discrimination. [I] cannot say that that point has been reached
Williamson v. Lee Optical, 348 U.
, 348 U. S. 489
"When it is shown that state action threatens significantly to
impinge upon constitutionally protected freedom, it becomes the
duty of this Court to determine whether the action bears a
reasonable relationship to the achievement of the government
purpose asserted as its justification."
361 U.S. at 361 U. S.
Thirty-six States have statutes prohibiting the anonymous
distribution of materials relating to elections. E.g.:
Kan.G.S.1949, § 25-1714; M.S.A. § 211.08; Page's Ohio R.C. §
3599.09; Purdon's Pa.Stat.Ann., Title 25, § 3546.