Talley v. California (1960) and Anonymous Blogging

-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.

H/T: First Amendment Center, Tulley v. California, EFF.

36 thoughts on “Talley v. California (1960) and Anonymous Blogging

  1. Mike Spindell:

    “It seems to me that copywright infringement should be a civil matter between business entities believing themselves put upon by other business entities, or individual.”

    I doubt you even believe in copy rights or patents.

  2. “As far as being smarter? I doubt it, there are many smart people on both sides of the aisle. But keep telling yourself that you are smarter, it makes it easier for us to be perceived as dunces while we go about our business.

    And it will give you a good excuse when you wake up one morning and all your sacred cows have been gored.

    That will be a good epitaph for liberalism “We thought they were stupid, we couldn’t help it.” ~Maury

    I think it would benefit both the left AND the right side of the aisles to remember that they are the wings of a Democratic Republic and their power comes from the people they are governing….so maybe those 2 sides of the coin of the realm could remember they are not there to form a gauntlet….the people that they borrow their sustenance from have been tortured by their idiotic and selfish behaviors…

  3. Mike S, thanks for the compliment. Civil v criminal, I’m with you on this. This is another area where we have a two-tiered justice system. If I purchase a product that doesn’t work, it’s a civil matter no matter how much it costs or what guarantees come with it. Even if that product has such a history of failure that its lack of quality is known by the company. The company just builds in a settlement factor along with its manufacturing costs in case the consumer wins the case.

    The DHS certainly doesn’t need to police the proliferation of fake handbags or poor quality rip-offs of crappy pop music. If DOS has so little else to do then the answer is to make it smaller and save the country some money, not allow mission-creep to make them a front line enforcement arm of the Commerce Department.

  4. Woosty is = cat:

    I believe the proper term for our form of government is a: Constitutional Republic.

    “A constitutional republic is a state, where the head of state and other officials are representatives of the people and must govern according to existing constitutional law that limits the government’s power over all of its citizens. Because the head of the state is elected, it is a republic and not a monarchy.

    In a constitutional republic, executive, legislative, and judicial powers are separated into distinct branches.[1]

    The fact that a constitution exists that limits the government’s power makes the state constitutional. That the head(s) of state and other officials are chosen by election, rather than inheriting their positions, and that their decisions are subject to judicial review makes a state republican.”

    from wikipedia

  5. Wootsy….some think you may be flaky….as long as moar is around….you shine fine…lol….thats is a compliment if you did not know….

  6. Mike Spindell,

    In my opinion Lottakatz is filled with brilliant comments and we can praise her to the hilt because she also has a humble streak … she’s always a good read.

  7. LK does indeed post great things…she is quite adept and bright….we may not agree on all things….that being said…we can agree to disagree without it affecting the nature of the blawg…

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