Martin v. City of Struthers

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Martin v. Struthers
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 11, 1943
Decided May 3, 1943
Full case name Martin v. City of Struthers, Ohio
Citations 319 U.S. 141 (more)
63 S. Ct. 862; 87 L. Ed. 1313; 1943 U.S. LEXIS 1188
Prior history Appeal from the Supreme Court of Ohio
A law prohibiting the distribution of handbills from door to door violated the First Amendment rights of a Jehovah's Witness.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Black, joined by Stone, Douglas, Murphy, Rutledge
Concurrence Murphy
Dissent Frankfurter
Dissent Reed, joined by Roberts, Jackson

Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141 (1943), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that a law prohibiting the distribution of handbills from door to door violated the First Amendment rights of a Jehovah's Witness.


"Martin...went to the homes of strangers, knocking on doors and ringing doorbells in order to distribute to the inmates of the homes leaflets advertising a religious meeting. In doing so, she proceeded in a conventional and orderly fashion."

She was convicted "in the Mayor's Court" and fined $10.00 for violating a Struthers, Ohio city ordinance which made it illegal to distribute door-to-door any "handbills, circulars or other advertisements."

Opinion of the Court

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the lower court. The Court held that the First Amendment protects both "the right to distribute literature" and "the right to receive it" and stated that the distribution of literature is protected "even if it creates the minor nuisance for a community of cleaning liter from its streets." Justice Hugo Black, writing the opinion of the court, stated,

While door to door distributors of literature may be either a nuisance or a blind for criminal activities, they may also be useful members of society engaged in the dissemination of ideas in accordance with the best tradition of free discussion. ...

The ordinance does not control anything but the distribution of literature, and in that respect it substitutes the judgment of the community for the judgment of the individual householder. It submits the distributor to criminal punishment for annoying the person on whom he calls, even though the recipient of the literature distributed is in fact glad to receive it. ...

In any case the problem must be worked out by each community for itself with due respect for the constitutional rights of those desiring to distribute literature and those desiring to receive it, as well as those who choose to exclude such distributors from the home. ...

The Struthers ordinance does not safeguard these constitutional rights. ...

We conclude that the ordinance is invalid because [it is] in conflict with the freedom of speech and press.


Justices Reed, Roberts and Jackson dissented. Justice Reed wrote that

The most ... that can be or has been read into the ordinance is a prohibition of free distribution of printed matter by summoning inmates to their doors. There are excellent reasons to support a determination of the city council that such distributors may not disturb householders while permitting salesmen and others to call them to the door. Practical experience may well convince the council that irritations arise frequently from this method of advertising. The classification is certainly not discriminatory.


To prohibit such a call leaves open distribution of the notice on the street or at the home without signal to announce its deposit. Such assurance of privacy falls far short of an abridgment of freedom of the press.

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