Schneider v. New Jersey

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Schneider v. State of New Jersey
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Argued October 13,16, 1939
Decided November 22, 1939
Full case nameSchneider v. State of New Jersey (Town of Irvington)
Citations 308 U.S. 147 ( more )
60 S. Ct. 146;84 L. Ed. 155; 1939 U.S. LEXIS 1115; 2 Lab. Cas. (CCH) ¶ 17,049; 5 L.R.R.M. 659
Prior history Certiorari to the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals
The Court held that the purpose of the ordinances (to keep the streets clean and of good appearance) was insufficient to justify prohibiting defendants from handing out literature to other persons willing to receive it.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Charles E. Hughes
Associate Justices
James C. McReynolds  · Pierce Butler
Harlan F. Stone  · Owen J. Roberts
Hugo Black  · Stanley F. Reed
Felix Frankfurter  · William O. Douglas
Case opinions
Majority Roberts, joined by Hughes, Butler, Stone, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas
Dissent McReynolds
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend I, U.S. Const. amend. XIV

Schneider v. State of New Jersey, 308 U.S. 147 (1939), was a United States Supreme Court decision that combined four similar appeals (Schneider v. State of New Jersey (Town of Irvington), Young v. People of the State of California, Snyder v. City of Milwaukee, Nichols et al. v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts), each of which presented the question whether regulations embodied in municipal ordinances abridged the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and of the press secured against state invasion by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

Supreme Court of the United States highest court in the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. Established pursuant to Article III of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, it has original jurisdiction over a small range of cases, such as suits between two or more states, and those involving ambassadors. It also has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal court and state court cases that involve a point of federal constitutional or statutory law. The Court has the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the Constitution or an executive act for being unlawful. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The Court may decide cases having political overtones, but it has ruled that it does not have power to decide nonjusticiable political questions. Each year it agrees to hear about 100–150 of the more than 7,000 cases that it is asked to review.

First Amendment to the United States Constitution Law guaranteeing freedom of speech, religion, assembly, press and petitions and prohibiting establishment of an official religion

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents the government from making laws which respect an establishment of religion, prohibit the free exercise of religion, or abridge the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, or the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.

Freedom of speech political right to communicate ones opinions and ideas

Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. The term "freedom of expression" is sometimes used synonymously but includes any act of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.


The appellants (Jehovah's Witnesses) were charged with a violation of a local ordinance that barred persons from distributing handbills on public streets or handing them out door-to-door.

Jehovahs Witnesses Christian denomination

Jehovah's Witnesses is a millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs distinct from mainstream Christianity. The group reports a worldwide membership of approximately 8.58 million adherents involved in evangelism and an annual Memorial attendance of over 20 million. Jehovah's Witnesses are directed by the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, a group of elders in Warwick, New York, which establishes all doctrines based on its interpretations of the Bible. They believe that the destruction of the present world system at Armageddon is imminent, and that the establishment of God's kingdom over the earth is the only solution for all problems faced by humanity.


In 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the purpose of the ordinances to keep the streets clean and of good appearance was insufficient to justify prohibiting defendants from handing out literature to other persons willing to receive it. Any burden imposed upon the city authorities in cleaning and caring for the streets as an indirect consequence of such distribution resulted from the constitutional protection of the freedom of speech and press. Concerning the distribution of materials from house to house without a permit, the ordinance was void.

This right is not absolute, however. Municipalities may lawfully regulate the conduct of those using the streets, for the purpose of keeping them open and available for movement of people and property, so long as legislation to this end does not abridge the constitutional liberty of one rightfully upon the street to impart information through speech or the distribution of literature.

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