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. “The assault on freedom previously enjoyed by people on the internet is ongoing and it has an active business component working with the government.”


    Brilliant, informative comment. One of the most annoying things to me is the government involvement in matters that should be civilly not criminally. 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. If someone sells a “Rolex” on a street corner and it is a fake, there is some element of fraud involved. However, if approached on the street by someone offering to sell me qa “Rolex” for $20, my purchasing it really means I understand that at that price it had to have been stolen.
    “Victims” of such scams are never innocent. While i can see a police officer moving in and making an arrest if observing this, I don’t see the need for a federal taskforce or agency being created. That this is done is one more example of “welfare” to the Plutocrats, while the public in need is told the money isn’t there and it is better for them to be “independent.”

  2. Lottakatz:

    “Likewise, the government helps business pursue its own ends and Homeland Security and the FBI and other agencies have been very active in pursuing file-sharing claim. DHS has seized many sites, some of them are guilty of no wrongdoing, in the last several months.”

    that is what happens when you mix business and government. When you bail out Wall Street and you subsidize farmers, and you buy Chrysler and GM.

    How do you like all those government regulations now? Why do you think those businesses do it? Because the government can shut them down through regulations.

    You cant have it both ways, you either have freedom or you dont. It doesnt exist in only one arena, it must exist in all areas. You must have political and economic freedom, you cannot have one or the other.

  3. rafflaw….

    You know they don’t like cows…They are too full of Bull… right Maury…or do you prefer the other kind….Cows and Bulls…Bulls with out balls are called what now….ah yes…Trolls….

  4. The assault on freedom previously enjoyed by people on the internet is ongoing and it has an active business component working with the government. When the government wanted to start channeling all internet traffic to/through the NSA it was done with the full cooperation of the ISP’s. Whenever the government makes a request of an ISP compliance is swift weather or not the government has a warrant.

    Likewise, the government helps business pursue its own ends and Homeland Security and the FBI and other agencies have been very active in pursuing file-sharing claim. DHS has seized many sites, some of them are guilty of no wrongdoing, in the last several months.

    The governments job of late has been IMO to stifle dissent and further erode our First Amendment freedom. Below is an example of this selective targeting. This defendant is guilty of providing links only, which is far different than the language of the copyright law he is being charged with breaking. What YouTube and Yahoo and many other large sites do every day is an actual violation of that law, but this guy is a little fish and easy to go after:


    “New York man faces five years in jail for ‘linking’ to online videos”

    “DHS, along with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), seized Brian McCarthy’s domain, channelsurfing.net, in late January. The site has now been replaced with a government warning: “This domain has been seized by ICE – Homeland Security Investigations, Special Agent in Charge, New York Office.”

    “It is unlawful to reproduce copyrighted material, such as movies, music, software or games, without authorization… First-time offenders convicted of a criminal felony copyright law will face up to five years in federal prison, restitution, forfeiture and fine.”

    The advocacy group Demand Progress has claimed that McCarthy never reproduced copyrighted material, and that his website simply linked to other sites.

    A criminal complaint obtained by the group seems to acknowledge that agents knew that McCarthy was running a “linking website.”

    “Based on my participation in the investigation leading to the February 2011 Seizure, I know that Channel surfing.net was a ‘linking’ website,” special agent Daniel Brazier wrote in the complaint.

    “Based on my training and experience, I know that ‘linking’ websites generally collect and catalog links to files on third party websites that contain illegal copies of copyrighted content, including sporting events and Pay-Per-View events,” he added.

    The special agent detailed 17 copyrighted sports programs he was able to watch when he “clicked on links” at channelsurfing.net. …”

    When did DHS and Immigration start being enforcement contractors for RIAA and other companies?


    “Bill combating web piracy would give AG power to trample First Amendment Rights

    Having tried and failed to succeed using legal remedies, content providers now want the federal government to serve as their private security police through COICA.

    In principle, the goals of the bill are laudable. Digital piracy deprives creators of digital content of rightful compensation and should be outlawed. Yet, giving the federal government the power to shut down websites at will based upon a vague and arbitrary standard of evidence, is setting a dangerous precedent.

    One of the most invidious features of COICA as written is that websites that provide only links to illegal content alone—which in itself is not a criminal act—could still face wrath of the federal executioner. In essence, the law would allow the federal government to censor the web without due process.”

  5. Anonymously Yours:

    So what. You may just know a great deal that isn’t so and are good at proving it. Ever thought of that?

    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.”

  6. Maury, Maury, Maury,

    Surely you jest…..come now….are you really that smart that you wanna play the people on this blawg…Most Identify with the Democratic party….some call them left wings for lack of a better word…alls it means is the left side of the isle….you knew that didn’t you..Psssttt…something to not forget….most of us here have advanced degrees form some of the better university’s…..no shit… FYI a person that appears to be liberal in your mind may also be better educated….is that a mere coincidence….I am saying to you for clarification… Most of the people that are Democrats… are smarter than your republican counter-parts….really…

  7. Anonymously Yours:

    does anyone have any original ideas? I think the Greeks and Shakespeare have pretty much said it all before.

  8. An IP address provides some anonymity, it’s true – but it isn’t
    as anonymous as an unsigned letter that can be mailed from anywhere.

  9. Elaine M.,

    Now that was funny…..In defense of Maury….he does have ideals….But none of them are his or original….If he was in school he would be kicked out for plagiarism…Not that I haven;t done it myself…..lol….As to the Ulterior Motives….well…how can he really have any if he is not even aware of what he is doing……

  10. Maury,

    I think some people have ideals and some people have ulterior motives. I’m sure you and I would disagree as to who has ulterior motives.

  11. all this from those who try and intimidate those with differing ideas, or as Anonymously Yours says “ideals”, by calling them trolls. Give me a break. Most of you are in favor of the Fairness Doctrine.

    But Anonymously Yours is right, we all have different ideals.

  12. The right to post and comment anonymously must be defended. I personally do not because I assume that despite security measures, any of those in our government spy system can find out who you are anyway.

  13. Good lord and as Nal and AY have pointed out … our Founding Fathers did some of their best work under a nom de plume, a pseudonym, anonymously. They had to in order to avoid physical harm from the Monarch … hmmmm

  14. Great article Nal. I have to agree that our freedom of speech is under attack and unless we start using it more forcefully and often, we will lose it.

  15. Each agency that maintains a system of records shall–
    7) maintain no record describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment unless expressly authorized by statute or by the individual about whom the record is maintained or unless pertinent to and within the scope of an authorized law enforcement activity;
    5 U.S.C. § 552a
    As Amended

  16. AY:

    From your link,I guess these words stop any complaint a person may have:

    “The judge ruled that those freedoms do not shield members from complying with legitimate government investigations.”

  17. I like being Anonymously Yours….Not just pure Anonymous….What was Franklin’s name….Clemmons…. The woman who wrote mystery’s under a male name…..

    But the right to be anonymous is eroding….see this wonderful crapola…

    Demand for Twitter details in Wikileaks probe upheld

    A federal judge has ruled that the US government may demand that three associates of Julian Assange hand over Twitter account information in the criminal investigation into Wikileaks.

    Judge Theresa Buchanan sided with the government on the nature of the investigation, and argued that there was no constitutional violation.

    “The Twitter Order does not seek to control or direct the content of petitioners’ speech or association,” she wrote in her ruling.

    In a statement, ACLU lawyer Aden Fine said: “This ruling gives the government the ability to secretly amass private information related to individuals’ internet communications.

    “Except in extraordinary circumstances, the government should not be able to obtain this information in secret. That’s not how our system works.”


    And you just know that the “Good” guys are going to just use it for that limited purpose…..I wonder if the Kock Brothers got their game plan for stealing oil by modifying the espionage handbook….. Jethro….I hear granny’s calling you boy…

Comments are closed.