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Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations

    Citation. 22 Ill.413 U.S. 376, 93 S. Ct. 2553, 37 L. Ed. 2d 669, 1 Med. L. Rptr. 1908, 5 FEP Cases 1141 (1973)

    Brief Fact Summary. This case considers the constitutionality of a Human Relations Ordinance (the Ordinance), which facially directs newspapers/editors on how they should carry and place their “help-wanted” ads.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Commercial speech is not constitutionally protected, even when it is included in a newspaper.


    Facts. The City of Pittsburgh enacted the Ordinance, which prohibited newspapers from sex-designating “help-wanted” ads, except in the limited case wherein the employer or advertiser is free to make a hiring decision solely based on sex. The Petitioner, the Pittsburgh Press Co. (Petitioner), sought relief alleging the Ordinance was, facially, discriminatory against its editorial privilege and First Amendment freedoms associated with the press. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) granted certiorari to consider Petitioner’s allegations.

    Issue. This case considers whether the First Amendment freedom of the press extends to the discretion of editors when dealing with commercial speech, which is otherwise regulated by the Ordinance.

    Held. Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell). Affirmed.
    Petitioner’s argument that the decision of how to place “help-wanted” ads is editorial in nature and thus is elevated from the level of commercial speech, was unpersuasive. The Supreme Court held that, regardless of Editorial license, discrimination in employment is illegal commercial activity under the guidelines of the Ordinance and as such it should be avoided, even to the minute level proscribed by the placement of “help-wanted” ads.

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    Discussion. It is important to note the narrow scope of the Court’s decision. Respondent’s Ordinance is drawn to prohibit sex discrimination, by designation of help-wanted ads. It does not affect the editorial or communicative roles of the newspaper, and the Court notes that the newspaper is still free to comment upon the Ordinance, but it must follow it.

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