-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
Thanks to the internet, free speech has never been more in evidence. Blogs and their comments sections enable anyone with internet access to speak their mind. The anonymity provided by the IP address encourages people to write what they think. The Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects the right to speak anonymously in a case that bears the name of Manuel Tulley, who founded the Los Angeles chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality.
In 1932, Los Angeles adopted an ordinance that stated: “No person shall distribute any hand-bill in any place under any circumstances, which does not have printed on the cover, or the face thereof, the name and address of the following: (a) the person who printed, wrote, compiled or manufactured the same … .”
In 1958, Tulley was charged with violating that ordinance when he handed out handbills that read: “National Consumers Mobilization, Box 6533.” The handbills urged the boycott of businesses that carried products of “manufacturers who will not offer equal employment opportunities to Negroes, Mexicans and Orientals.”
A municipal court held that the handbills did not contain enough identifying information to satisfy the ordinance and Tulley was fined $10. A California appeals court affirmed the decision. It would have been so easy for Tulley to pay the $10 and be on with his life, but he appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court backed him in a 6-3 ruling.
Justice Hugo Black, writing for the majority, focused on anonymous speech:
Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all.
Indeed, our country’s founding was aided by anonymous writing. The authors of The Federalist Papers, Madison, Hamilton, and Jay, all signed their essays with “PUBLIUS.”
In McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n (1995), Justice Stevens wrote for the majority:
Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. … an author’s decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.
It is hard to argue with that logic.