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The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. These indeed have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty. The press in its historic connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion. Protecting this essential liberty from every sort of infringement is of vital importance.
Defendant was convicted under a city ordinance requiring a permit to distribute pamphlets. Defendant distributed, without the required permission, a pamphlet in the nature of religious tracts. The superior court of the county refused sanction of a petition for review. The appellate court affirmed. The state supreme court denied an application for certiorari. Defendant sought further appellate review by the United States Supreme Court.
Did the ordinance that prohibits distribution of religious pamphlets violate the U.S. Constitution?
The Court held that the ordinance was invalid on its face as it violated freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which were protected by the First Amendment from infringement by Congress and were among the fundamental personal rights and liberties which were protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by state action. Municipal ordinances adopted under state authority constituted state action and were within the prohibition of the amendment. The court further held that the liberty of the press necessarily embraced pamphlets and leaflets.