Meese v. Keene

LOCATION:Wisconsin Eastern U.S. District Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 85-1180
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)

CITATION: 481 US 465 (1987)
ARGUED: Dec 02, 1986
DECIDED: Apr 28, 1987

Donald B. Ayer – on behalf of Appellants
John G. Donhoff, Jr. – on behalf of Appellee

Facts of the case


Media for Meese v. Keene

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 02, 1986 in Meese v. Keene

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 28, 1987 in Meese v. Keene

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 85-1180, Meese versus Keene will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

This case involves the constituniality of a provision in the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.

The statute requires all agents of foreign principals to file detailed registration statements, describing the nature of their business and their political activities.

The requirement applies to agents of both friendly and unfriendly governments.

Pursuant to this requirement the New York office of the National Film Board of Canada has been registered as a foreign agent since 1947, because it is an agency of the Canadian Government.

Films produced by the Canadian Film Board are classified under that statute as political propaganda if they contain material intended to influence the foreign policies of the United States.

When a foreign agent distributes such materials in interstate commerce in the United States here she is required to provide the Attorney General with a copy of the material and to file a report describing the extent of the dissemination.

In addition, the agent must provide the recipient of the material with the disclosure statement identifying the source of the film and the fact that a copy has been filed with the Attorney General.

The member of the California state legislature who wanted to exhibit three Canadian films, two of which deal with the subject of acid rain and the third dealing with the nuclear war, challenged the application of the statute to these three films.

The challenge in the District Court did not attack the provisions of the Act concerning disclosure, registration, and filing.

It concerned the provision of the Act that defines the regulated category by using the term propaganda to describe the materials it must comply with these various provisions of the statute.

The District Court held that the California legislator had standing to bring the action and that invalidated that provision of the statute.

We noted probable jurisdiction.

As a case comes to us, it does not raise any question, concerning the registration, disclosure, and filing requirements of the Act.

We agree with the District Court that the legislator had the standing to bring the action, but we reverse the decision in so far as the court concluded, that it was unconstitutional for Congress to use the term “propaganda” to define the category of regulated materials.

Since the statute neither interferes with the appellee’s access to the films nor prohibits edits or restrains the distribution materials to which the term political propaganda applies, but merely requires the distributors of the material to make additional disclosures to better enable the public to evaluate the material, we find no violation of the First Amendment.

Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Brennan and Justice Marshall have joined.

Justice Scalia took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.