Railway Express Agency, Inc. v. New York

Facts of the Case

The business owner was engaged in a nation-wide express business and operated about 1,900 trucks in New York City. It sold the space on the exterior sides of the trucks for advertising, which, for the most part, was unconnected with its own business. The business was convicted in the magistrate’s court of violating § 124, which prohibited the operation of an advertising vehicle except where such vehicles were engaged in the usual business of the owner and not used mainly for advertising. The business owner appealed, arguing that the regulation’s aim and purpose did not justify unequal treatment on the basis of such a distinction and that the classification had no relation to the traffic problem because a violation turned not on what kind of advertisements were carried on trucks, but on whose trucks they were carried. The Court held that if the classification was related to the purpose for which it was made, then it did not contain the kind of discrimination against which the


Did a New York City traffic ordinance prohibiting vehicles from displaying advertisements unrelated to the owner’s business interests violate the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause?


Justice William O. Douglas delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court, and held that the ordinance was valid. Employing rational basis review, the Court reasoned that the ordinance functioned to limit distractions to motorists. Regarding the Equal Protection Clause challenge, the Court held that a city could ban some advertisements that distracted pedestrians without having to eliminate every distraction.In his concurrence, Justice Robert H. Jackson famously wrote that there is no more effective practical guarantee against arbitrary and unreasonable government than to require that the principles of law which officials would impose on a minority must be imposed generally.

Case Information

  • Citation: 336 US 106 (1949)
  • Argued: Dec 6, 1948
  • Decided Jan 31, 1949