Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioner, Consolidated Edison (Petitioner), sought to place written materials regarding nuclear power in its billing envelopes. The National Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC) disagreed with this practice and filed a complaint with the Respondent, the Public Service Commission (Respondent), asking that Petitioner’s envelopes be opened to contrasting views.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. When no valid time, place and manner exception exists, political speech cannot be suppressed.
Issue. This case considers whether it is constitutionally acceptable to suppress political viewpoints when they are shared with a mass audience, through envelope inserts.
Held. Judge Lewis Powell Jr. (J. Powell). Reversed.
The Respondent presented several theories to the court. First, it argued that the subject matter of the inserts addressed controversial issues of public policy, which was a permissible subject-matter regulation. The court found, in that instance, that while nuclear power may be a controversial topic, the expression of Petitioner’s opinion did not cause public upheaval, and therefore the suppression of the inserts directly infringed on the freedom of speech protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution (Constitution).
Respondent also argued that suppression of the inserts was necessary to avoid forcing one viewpoint on the public. The court rejected this argument, noting that where speech is communicated to many listeners, it cannot be prohibited except where the audience cannot avoid the speech. In the case of envelope inserts, consumers are free to discard the materials without reading them and are hardly considered to be captive to another’s view.
It is designed and intended to remove governmental restraints from the arena of public discussion, putting the decision as to what views shall be voiced largely into the hands of each of us, in the hope that the use of such freedom will ultimately produce a more capable citizenry and more perfect polity and in the belief that no other approach would comport with the premise of individual dignity and choice upon which our political system rests.View Full Point of Law