The Stone Court (1941–46)

First Amendment

In what decision did the Court declare that the First Amendment did not protect advertising?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Valentine v. Chrestensen (1942) that the First Amendment does not protect advertising. Entrepreneur F. J. Chrestensen owned a naval submarine that he was exhibiting for tourists for a fee in a New York City harbor. City officials prohibited Chrestensen from distributing handbills advertising tours for his submarine because they said city law prohibiting commercial advertising. The enterprising Chrestensen then printed double-sided handbills. On one side was the commercial advertising but the other side contained a statement of protest over the city’s policies with respect to advertising. Chrestensen claimed that city officials could not cite him for violation of the law because his handbills contained political speech in addition to advertising.

The Court wrote that “the Constitution imposes no such restraint on government as respects purely commercial advertising.” The Court also explained that Chrestensen could not evade the city law by adding political speech to his handbills: “It is enough for the present purpose that the stipulated facts justify the conclusion that the affixing of the protest against official conduct to the advertising circular was with the intent, and for the purpose, of evading the prohibition of the ordinance. If that evasion were successful, every merchant who desires to broadcast advertising leaflets in the streets need only append a civic appeal, or a moral platitude, to achieve immunity from the law’s command.”

The U.S. Supreme Court later overruled the Chrestensen decision in the mid-1970s.


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