MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
Appellants challenge the constitutionality of Title III of the Postal Revenue and Federal Salary Act of 1967, 81 Stat. 645, 39 U. S. C. § 4009 (1964 ed., Supp. IV), under which a person may require that a mailer remove his name from its mailing lists and stop all future mailings to the householder. The appellants are publishers, distributors, owners, and operators of mail order houses, mailing list brokers, and owners and operators of mail service organizations whose business activities are affected by the challenged statute.
A brief description of the statutory framework will facilitate our analysis of the questions raised in this appeal. Section 4009 is entitled "Prohibition of pandering advertisements in the mails." It provides a procedure
Subsection (b) mandates the Postmaster General, upon receipt of a notice from the addressee specifying that he has received advertisements found by him to be within the statutory category, to issue on the addressee's request an order directing the sender and his agents or assigns to refrain from further mailings to the named addressee. Additionally, subsection (c) requires the Postmaster General to order the affected sender to delete the name of the designated addressee from all mailing lists owned or controlled by the sender and prohibits the sale, rental, exchange, or other transactions involving mailing lists bearing the name of the designated addressee.
If the Postmaster General has reason to believe that an order issued under this section has been violated, subsection (d) authorizes him to notify the sender by registered or certified mail of his belief and the reasons therefor, and grant him an opportunity to respond and have a hearing on whether a violation has occurred.
If the Postmaster General thereafter determines that the order has been or is being violated, he is authorized to request the Attorney General to seek an order from a United States District Court directing compliance with the prohibitory order. Subsection (e) grants to the district court jurisdiction to issue a compliance order upon application of the Attorney General.
Appellants initiated an action in the United States District Court for the Central District of California upon
A three-judge court was convened pursuant to 28 U. S. C. § 2284 and it determined that the section was constitutional when interpreted to prohibit advertisements similar to those initially mailed to the addressee.
The District Court construed subsections (b) and (c) to prohibit "advertisements similar" to those initially mailed to the addressee. Future mailings, in the view of the District Court, "are to be measured by the objectionable material of such first mailing." 300 F. Supp., at 1041. In our view Congress did not intend so restrictive a scope to those provisions.
I. BACKGROUND AND CONGRESSIONAL OBJECTIVES
Section 4009 was a response to public and congressional concern with use of mail facilities to distribute unsolicited advertisements that recipients found to be offensive because of their lewd and salacious character. Such mail was found to be pressed upon minors as well as adults who did not seek and did not want it. Use of mailing lists of youth organizations was part of the mode of
To accomplish these objectives Congress provided in subsection (a) that the mailer is subject to an order "to refrain from further mailings of such materials to designated addressees." Subsection (b) states that the Postmaster General shall direct the sender to refrain from "further mailings to the named addressees." Subsection (c) in describing the Postmaster's order states that it shall "expressly prohibit the sender . . . from making any further mailings to the designated addressees. . . ." Subsection (c) also requires the sender to delete the addressee's name "from all mailing lists" and prohibits the sale, transfer, and exchange of lists bearing the addressee's name.
There are three plausible constructions of the statute, with respect to the scope of the prohibitory order. The order could prohibit all future mailings to the addressees, all future mailings of advertising material to the addressees, or all future mailings of similar materials.
The seeming internal statutory inconsistency is undoubtedly a residue of the language of the section as it was initially proposed. The section as originally reported by the House Committee prohibited "further mailings of such pandering advertisements," § 4009 (a), "further mailings of such matter," § 4009 (b), and "any further mailings of pandering advertisements," § 4009 (c).
The section was subsequently amended by the House of Representatives to eliminate from the Post Office any censorship function. Congressman Waldie, who proposed the amendment, envisioned a minimal role for the Post Office. The amendment was intended to remove "the right of the Government to involve itself in any determination of the content and nature of these objectionable materials . . . ." 113 Cong. Rec. 28660 (1967). The only determination left for the Postmaster General is whether or not the mailer has removed the addressee's name from the mailing list. Statements by the proponents of the legislation in both the House and Senate manifested an intent to prohibit all further mailings from the sender. In describing the effect of his proposed amendment Congressman Waldie stated:
The Senate Committee Report on the bill contained similar language:
The legislative history of subsection (a) thus supports an interpretation that prohibits all future mailings independent of any objective test. This reading is consistent with the provisions of related subsections in the section. Subsection (c) provides that the Postmaster General "shall also direct the sender and his agents or assigns to delete immediately the names of the designated addressees from all mailing lists owned or controlled by the sender or his agents or assigns and, further, shall prohibit the sender and his agents or assigns from the sale, rental, exchange, or other transaction involving mailing lists bearing the names of the designated addressees." 39 U. S. C. § 4009 (c) (1964 ed., Supp. IV).
It would be anomalous to read the statute to affect only similar material or advertisements and yet require the Postmaster General to order the sender to remove the addressee's name from all mailing lists in his actual or constructive possession. The section was intended to allow the addressee complete and unfettered discretion in electing whether or not he desired to receive further material from a particular sender. See n. 6, infra. The impact of this aspect of the statute is on the mailer, not
II. FIRST AMENDMENT CONTENTIONS
The essence of appellants' argument is that the statute violates their constitutional right to communicate. One sentence in appellants' brief perhaps characterizes their entire position:
In today's complex society we are inescapably captive audiences for many purposes, but a sufficient measure of individual autonomy must survive to permit every householder to exercise control over unwanted mail. To make the householder the exclusive and final judge of what will cross his threshold undoubtedly has the effect of impeding the flow of ideas, information, and arguments that, ideally, he should receive and consider. Today's merchandising methods, the plethora of mass mailings subsidized by low postal rates, and the growth of the sale of large mailing lists as an industry in itself have changed the mailman from a carrier of primarily private communications, as he was in a more leisurely day, and have made him an adjunct of the mass mailer who sends unsolicited and often unwanted mail into every home. It places no strain on the doctrine of judicial notice to observe that whether measured by pieces or pounds, Everyman's mail today is made up overwhelmingly of material he did not seek from persons he does not know. And all too often it is matter he finds offensive.
In Martin v. Struthers, 319 U.S. 141 (1943), MR. JUSTICE BLACK, for the Court, while supporting the "[f]reedom to distribute information to every citizen," id., at 146, acknowledged a limitation in terms of leaving "with the homeowner himself" the power to decide "whether distributors of literature may lawfully call at a home." Id., at 148. Weighing the highly important right to communicate, but without trying to determine where it fits into constitutional imperatives, against the very basic right to be free from sights, sounds, and tangible matter we do not want, it seems to us that a mailer's
The Court has traditionally respected the right of a householder to bar, by order or notice, solicitors, hawkers, and peddlers from his property. See Martin v. Struthers, supra; cf. Hall v. Commonwealth, 188 Va. 72, 49 S.E.2d 369, appeal dismissed, 335 U.S. 875 (1948). In this case the mailer's right to communicate is circumscribed only by an affirmative act of the addressee giving notice that he wishes no further mailings from that mailer.
To hold less would tend to license a form of trespass and would make hardly more sense than to say that a radio or television viewer may not twist the dial to cut off an offensive or boring communication and thus bar its entering his home. Nothing in the Constitution compels us to listen to or view any unwanted communication, whatever its merit; we see no basis for according the printed word or pictures a different or more preferred status because they are sent by mail. The ancient concept that "a man's home is his castle" into which "not even the king may enter" has lost none of its vitality, and none of the recognized exceptions includes any right to communicate offensively with another. See Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523 (1967).
Both the absoluteness of the citizen's right under § 4009 and its finality are essential; what may not be provocative to one person may well be to another. In operative effect the power of the householder under the statute is unlimited; he may prohibit the mailing of a dry goods catalog because he objects to the contents —or indeed the text of the language touting the merchandise. Congress provided this sweeping power not only to protect privacy but to avoid possible constitutional questions that might arise from vesting the power to make any discretionary evaluation of the material in a governmental official.
We therefore categorically reject the argument that a vendor has a right under the Constitution or otherwise to send unwanted material into the home of another. If this prohibition operates to impede the flow of even valid ideas, the answer is that no one has a right to press even "good" ideas on an unwilling recipient. That we are often "captives" outside the sanctuary of the home and subject to objectionable speech and other sound does not mean we must be captives everywhere. See Public Utilities Comm'n v. Pollak, 343 U.S. 451 (1952). The asserted right of a mailer, we repeat, stops at the outer boundary of every person's domain.
The statutory scheme at issue accords to the sender an "opportunity to be heard upon such notice and proceedings as are adequate to safeguard the right for which the constitutional protection is invoked." Anderson Nat. Bank v. Luckett, 321 U.S. 233, 246 (1944). It thus comports with the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The statutory scheme accomplishes this by providing that the Postmaster General shall issue a prohibitory order to the sender on the request of the complaining addressee. Only if the sender violates the terms of the order is the Postmaster General authorized to serve a complaint on the sender, who is then allowed 15 days to respond. The sender can then secure an
The only administrative action not preceded by a full hearing is the initial issuance of the prohibitory order. Since the sender risks no immediate sanction by failing to comply with that order—it is only a predicate for later steps—it cannot be said that this aspect of the procedure denies due process. It is sufficient that all available defenses, such as proof that no mail was sent, may be presented to a competent tribunal before a contempt finding can be made. See Nickey v. Mississippi, 292 U.S. 393, 396 (1934).
Appellants next contend that compliance with the statute is confiscatory because the costs attending removal of the names are prohibitive. We agree with the conclusion of the District Court that the "burden does not amount to a violation of due process guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. Particularly when in the context presently before this Court it is being applied to commercial enterprises." 300 F. Supp., at 1041. See California State Auto Ins. Bureau v. Maloney, 341 U.S. 105 (1951).
There is no merit to the appellants' allegations that the statute is unconstitutionally vague. A statute is fatally vague only when it exposes a potential actor to some risk or detriment without giving him fair warning of the nature of the proscribed conduct. United States v. Cardiff, 344 U.S. 174, 176 (1952). Here the appellants know precisely what they must do on receipt of a prohibitory order. The complainants' names must be removed from the sender's mailing lists and he must refrain from future mailings to the named addressees. The sender is exposed to a contempt sanction only if he continues to mail to a particular addressee after administrative and judicial proceedings. Appellants run no substantial risk of miscalculation.
For the reasons stated, the judgment appealed from is affirmed.
It is so ordered.
I join the Court's opinion but add a few words. I agree that 39 U. S. C. § 4009 (1964 ed., Supp. IV) is constitutional insofar as it permits an addressee to require a mailer to remove his name from its mailing lists and to stop all future mailings to the addressee. As the Court notes, however, subsection (g) of § 4009 also allows an addressee to request the Postmaster General to include in any prohibitory order "the names of any of his minor children who have not attained their nineteenth birthday, and who reside with the addressee." In light of the broad interpretation that the Court assigns to § 4009, and see ante, at 738, the possibility exists that parents could prevent their children, even if they are 18 years old, from receiving political, religious, or other materials that the parents find offensive. In my view, a statute so construed and applied is not without constitutional difficulties. Cf. Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969); Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629 (1968). In this case, however, there is no particularized attack upon the constitutionality of subsection (g), nor, indeed, is there any indication on this record that under § 4009 (g) children in their late teens have been unwillingly deprived of the opportunity to receive materials. In these circumstances, I understand the Court to leave open the question of the right of older children to receive materials through the mail without governmental interference and also the more specific question whether § 4009 (g) may constitutionally be applied with respect to all materials and to all children under 19.