These appeals present the same question: is § 305 (a) of the Postal Service and Federal Employees Salary Act of 1962, 76 Stat. 840, constitutional as construed and applied? The statute provides in part:
The statute defines "communist political propaganda" as political propaganda (as that term is defined in § 1 (j) of the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938
To implement the statute the Post Office maintains 10 or 11 screening points through which is routed all unsealed mail from the designated foreign countries. At these points the nonexempt mail is examined by Customs authorities. When it is determined that a piece of mail is "communist political propaganda," the addressee is mailed a notice identifying the mail being detained and advising that it will be destroyed unless the addressee requests delivery by returning an attached reply card within 20 days.
Prior to March 1, 1965, the reply card contained a space in which the addressee could request delivery of any "similar publication" in the future. A list of the persons thus manifesting a desire to receive "communist political propaganda" was maintained by the Post Office. The Government in its brief informs us that the keeping of this list was terminated, effective March 15, 1965. Thus, under the new practice, a notice is sent and must be returned for each individual piece of mail desired. The only standing instruction which it is now possible to leave with the Post Office is not to deliver any "communist political
No. 491 arose out of the Post Office's detention in 1963 of a copy of the Peking Review # 12 addressed to appellant, Dr. Corliss Lamont, who is engaged in the publishing and distributing of pamphlets. Lamont did not respond to the notice of detention which was sent to him but instead instituted this suit to enjoin enforcement of the statute, alleging that it infringed his rights under the First and Fifth Amendments. The Post Office thereupon notified Lamont that it considered his institution of the suit to be an expression of his desire to receive "communist political propaganda" and therefore none of his mail would be detained. Lamont amended his complaint to challenge on constitutional grounds the placement of his name on the list of those desiring to receive "communist political propaganda." The majority of the three-judge District Court nonetheless dismissed the complaint as moot, 229 F.Supp. 913, because Lamont would now receive his mail unimpeded. Insofar as the list was concerned, the majority thought that any legally significant harm to Lamont as a result of being listed was merely a speculative possibility, and so on this score the controversy was not yet ripe for adjudication. Lamont appealed from the dismissal, and we noted probable jurisdiction. 379 U.S. 926.
Like Lamont, appellee Heilberg in No. 848, when his mail was detained, refused to return the reply card and
There is no longer even a colorable question of mootness in these cases, for the new procedure, as described above, requires the postal authorities to send a separate notice for each item as it is received and the addressee to make a separate request for each item. Under the new system, we are told, there can be no list of persons who have manifested a desire to receive "communist political propaganda" and whose mail will therefore go through relatively unimpeded. The Government concedes that the changed procedure entirely precludes any claim of mootness and leaves for our consideration the sole question of the constitutionality of the statute.
We conclude that the Act as construed and applied is unconstitutional because it requires an official act (viz., returning the reply card) as a limitation on the unfettered exercise of the addressee's First Amendment rights. As stated by Mr. Justice Holmes in Milwaukee Pub. Co. v. Burleson, 255 U.S. 407, 437 (dissenting): "The United States may give up the Post Office when it sees fit, but while it carries it on the use of the mails is almost as much a part of free speech as the right to use our tongues . . . ."
Here the Congress—expressly restrained by the First Amendment from "abridging" freedom of speech and of press—is the actor. The Act sets administrative officials astride the flow of mail to inspect it, appraise it, write the addressee about it, and await a response before dispatching the mail. Just as the licensing or taxing authorities in the Lovell, Thomas, and Murdock cases sought to control the flow of ideas to the public, so here federal agencies regulate the flow of mail. We do not have here, any more than we had in Hannegan v. Esquire, Inc., 327 U.S. 146, any question concerning the extent to which Congress may
We reverse the judgment in No. 491 and affirm that in No. 848.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom MR. JUSTICE GOLDBERG joins, concurring.
These might be troublesome cases if the addressees predicated their claim for relief upon the First Amendment rights of the senders. To succeed, the addressees
It is true that the First Amendment contains no specific guarantee of access to publications. However, the protection of the Bill of Rights goes beyond the specific guarantees to protect from congressional abridgment those equally fundamental personal rights necessary to make the express guarantees fully meaningful. See, e. g., Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497; NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449; Kent v. Dulles, 357 U.S. 116; Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U.S. 500. I think the right to receive publications is such a fundamental right. The dissemination of ideas can accomplish nothing if otherwise willing addressees are not free to receive and consider them. It would be a barren marketplace of ideas that had only sellers and no buyers.
Even if we were to accept the characterization of this statute as a regulation not intended to control the content of speech, but only incidentally limiting its unfettered exercise, see Zemel v. Rusk, 381 U.S. 1, 16-17, we "have consistently held that only a compelling [governmental] interest in the regulation of a subject within [governmental] constitutional power to regulate can justify
The Government asserts that Congress enacted the statute in the awareness that Communist political propaganda mailed to addressees in the United States on behalf of foreign governments was often offensive to the recipients and constituted a subsidy to the very governments which bar the dissemination of publications from the United States. But the sensibilities of the unwilling recipient are fully safeguarded by 39 CFR § 44.1 (a) (Supp. 1965) under which the Post Office will honor his request to stop delivery; the statute under consideration, on the other hand, impedes delivery even to a willing addressee. In the area of First Amendment freedoms, government has the duty to confine itself to the least intrusive regulations which are adequate for the purpose. Cf. Butler v. Michigan, 352 U.S. 380. The argument that the statute is justified by the object of avoiding the subsidization of propaganda of foreign governments which bar American propaganda needs little comment. If the Government wishes to withdraw a subsidy or a privilege, it must do so by means and on terms which do not endanger First Amendment rights. Cf. Speiser v. Randall, supra. That the governments which originate this propaganda themselves have no equivalent guarantees only highlights the cherished values of our constitutional framework; it can never justify emulating the practice of restrictive regimes in the name of expediency.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN concurs in the judgment of the Court on the grounds set forth in this concurring opinion.