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Railway Express Agency v. New York

    Brief Fact Summary. The Supreme Court of the United States found that a law that forbids general advertising on vehicles where such ads benefit businesses other than that of the vehicle’s owner, is a valid social and economic regulation.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Unequal treatment on the basis of advertisements of products sold by the owner of the truck and general advertisements is not a violation of equal protection, but rather a valid social and economic regulation.

    Facts. Section 124 of the New York City Traffic Regulations forbade general advertisements on trucks unless the advertisement belonged to the owner of the truck. Therefore, owners of trucks could not sell advertising space on their trucks to general advertisers. Appellant, Railway Express Agency, is engaged in a nationwide express business and operates about 1,900 trucks in New York City. Appellant was convicted for selling space on the exterior sides of the trucks for advertising pursuant to this law. The state court concluded that the advertising on vehicles constituted a distraction to other drivers and pedestrians and therefore, affects the safety and public use of the streets.

    Issue. Whether section 124 of the New York City Traffic Regulations violates the Constitution.

    Held. No. Judgment of the lower court affirmed. The city’s interest in traffic safety was served by the regulation banning general advertising on vehicles, but allowing advertising for the company which owned the vehicle. It is no requirement of equal protection that all evils of the same genus be eradicated or none at all.
    Concurrence. It would be constitutional for New York to completely ban advertising if such advertising causes people driving on the highways to be distracted.

    Discussion. Despite the law’s under-inclusiveness, the majority holds that it is a valid regulation and thus does not violate equal protection.


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