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Railway Express Agency v. New York

    Brief Fact Summary. The Appellant, Railway Express Agency (Appellant), brought suit against the Appellee, the State of New York (Appellee). The Appellant argued that a statute prohibiting advertising on vehicles, except for notices upon business delivery vehicles engaged in the regular work of the owner, are unconstitutional for violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Equal Protection Clause does not seek to protect so called discrimination in determining whether allowing advertising on vehicles and not allowing advertising on other vehicles is unconstitutional.

    Facts. The Appellant operates about 1,900 trucks in New York City and sells space on the exterior of the trucks for advertising. The advertising is for the most part unconnected with its own buisnes. The Appellant was fined for violating a state statute, which prohibits advertisements on the side of vehicles, except when the advestising is connected to the owner of the vehicles business. The statutes purpose was to protect the safety of pedestrians and other vehicle drivers by eliminating distractions on the streets. The judgment of conviction was upheld in the Court of Special Sessions as well as the Court of Appeals. The Appellant argued that this distinction between advertising on vehicles violates the Equal Protection Cluase of the Fourteenth Amendment as the statute draws lines that are not justified by the aim and purpose of the regulation, which is to lessen distractions caused by advertsing.

    Issue. Whether the statute violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution by allowing advertising of products on a vehicle sold by the owner of the vehicle, versus general advertising on a vehicle, unrelated to products sold by the owner of the vehicle.

    Held. Affirmed. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is not violated by this statute that prohibits advertising on vehicles except when the advertising is connected to the owner of the vehicles business.
    Concurrence. Where individuals contribute to an evil or danger in the same way and the same degree, may those who do so for hire be prohibited, while those who do so for their own commercial ends, but not for hire be allowed to continue? The answer is that the hiring may be put in a class by himself and may be dealt with differently than those who act on their own, as there is a real difference between doing in self interest and doing for hire. It is one thing to tolerate action from those who act on their own and it is another thing to permit the same action to be promoted for a price.

    Discussion. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution is invoked where a law treats similarity situated people differently. If the law is found to treat similarly situated people differently, then it must be determined what standard of review will be used. In this case, the Supreme Court did not think this was an Equal Protection
    Issue. But, they found if this were an Equal Protection issue, it would be upheld under a rational basis review. Rational basis scrutiny was used because it was a classification based on economic welfare. If rational basis scrutiny is applied, the plaintiff has to show the measure being challenged is not rationally related to any legitimate interest. Practically, any police power regulation, which furthers a health, safety or welfare purpose will be considered legitimate. In this case since the statute’s purpose was to further the safety of the public, the statute will be upheld.


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