Los Angeles Police Department v. United Reporting Publishing Corporation

PETITIONER: Los Angeles Police Department
RESPONDENT: United Reporting Publishing Corp.
LOCATION: WILK Radio

DOCKET NO.: 98-678
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 528 US 32 (1999)
ARGUED: Oct 13, 1999
DECIDED: Dec 07, 1999

ADVOCATES:
Bruce J. Ennis, Jr. - Argued the cause for the respondent
Edward C. DuMont - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court, supporting the petitioner
Thomas C. Goldstein - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

The former version of the California public records statute required a state or local law enforcement agency to make public the name, address, and occupation of every individual arrested by the agency. In 1996, the state amended the statute to require that a person requesting an arrestee's address declare, under penalty of perjury, that the request was being made for journalistic, scholarly, political, governmental, or investigative purposes, and that the address would not be used directly or indirectly to sell a product or service. The United Reporting Publishing Corporation publishes the "JAILMAIL" list, which provides the names and addresses of recently arrested individuals for its customers. United received its information from the Los Angeles Police Department and other California law enforcement agencies under the former version of the statute. United sought declaratory and injunctive relief to hold the amendment unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Ultimately, the Federal District Court granted United summary judgment, on the ground that the amended statute was an impermissible restriction on commercial speech and thus violated the First Amendment. In affirming, the Court of Appeals concluded that the amended statute restricted commercial speech, which was entitled to a limited measure of First Amendment protection; and that although an asserted governmental interest in protecting an arrestees' privacy was substantial, the amended statute's numerous exceptions precluded the statute from directly and materially advancing such an interest.

Question

 

Does California's amended public record statute, under which an arrestee's address disclosed by governmental agency may not be used to sell a product or service, violate the First Amendment's protection of commercial speech?

Media for Los Angeles Police Department v. United Reporting Publishing Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 13, 1999 in Los Angeles Police Department v. United Reporting Publishing Corporation

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 07, 1999 in Los Angeles Police Department v. United Reporting Publishing Corporation

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 98-678, Los Angeles Police Department versus United Reporting Publishing.

The respondent, United Reporting Publishing Corporation, provides the names and addresses of recently arrested individuals to its customers.

Its customers include attorneys, insurances companies, drug and alcohol counselors and driving schools.

United Reporting obtained the address information from the petitioner, the Los Angeles Police Department under a California statute.

The California legislature amended the statute to require that a person requesting addresses declare under penalty of perjury that the request is made for a scholarly, journalistic, political, governmental, or investigative purpose and that the address will not be used directly or indirectly to sell a product or service.

When that amendment became effective in 1996, the Police Department denied United Reporting’s request for addresses because United Reporting did not make the declarations required under the statute.

United Reporting then filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on the ground that the amended statute was unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The District Court ruled the Amendment statute was invalid because it violated the First Amendment on its face and therefore enjoin the operation of the statute.

The Court of Appeals affirmed.

It concluded that United Reporting, in selling the addresses to its clients, engaged in constitutionally protected commercial speech and that the amended statute unduly burden that speech in violation of the First Amendment.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse.

We hold that United Reporting was not entitled to prevail on a facial attack on the California statute.

For purposes of analyzing the facial invalidation, the Los Angeles Police Department was correct in arguing here that the statute is simply a law regulating access to information in the government’s hands.

This is not a case in which the government is prohibiting a speaker from conveying information that the speaker already possess.

California could decide if it wish not to give out arrestee information at all without violating the First Amendment.

To the extent that United Reporting’s facial challenge of the statute seeks to rely on the statute affects on parties not before the court, like United Reporting’s clients, the claim does not fall within the case law allowing courts to entertain facial challenges.

No threat of prosecution, cut-off of funds, hangs over their heads and there is no possibility that protected speech will be muted.

Thus, the Court of Appeals was wrong to strike down the statute on its face.

Justice Scalia has filed a concurring opinion which Justice Thomas joins; Justice Ginsburg has filed a concurring opinion which Justices O’Connor, Souter, and Breyer, join; Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Kennedy joins.