Brief Fact Summary. There are three separate cases when regulations prohibited the distribution of handbills to members of the public on the street or sidewalks.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A citizen has the right to distribute information to others on the public streets.
Los Angeles code prohibits the distribution of pamphlets to people on the sidewalks and in cars. Petitioner was distributing a meeting notice to “Friends of Lincoln Brigade” where speakers would discuss the war in Spain.
Milwaukee has a code similar to Los Angeles. Petitioner was picketing a meat market and passing out pamphlets explaining the union’s position.
Irvington, New Jersey requires prior permission to distribute pamphlets to the public. Petitioner, a Jehovah’s Witness is charged with canvassing without a permit.
Issue. Are these city restrictions constitutional?
Held. No. There are other less restrictive ways to prevent littering.
Discussion. Points of Law - for Law School Success
The Court held that the purpose to keep the streets clean and of good appearance is insufficient to justify an ordinance which prohibits a person rightfully on a public street from handing literature to one willing to receive it. View Full Point of Law
As long as the distribution of pamphlets is peaceful the government has no legitimate interest in prohibiting this form of communication. A traffic jam or blockage of walkways is an important interest that may be significant enough to partially regulate the time, place, and manner of the communication, but it does not support a complete ban on speech.