Kovacs v. Cooper, 336 U.S. 77; 69 S. Ct. 448; 93 L. Ed. 513 (1949)

Kovacs v. Cooper, 336 U.S. 77; 69 S. Ct. 448; 93 L. Ed. 513 (1949)

Facts—An ordinance of Trenton, New Jersey, makes it unlawful to play, use, or operate for advertising or any other purpose on public streets, alleys, or thoroughfares, sound trucks, loud speakers, sound amplifiers, calliopes, or any instrument that emits “loud and raucous noises.”

Question—Does this ordinance limiting sound trucks violate the right of freedom of speech and assembly, and the freedom to communicate information and opinions to others?


ReasonsJ. Reed (5–4). Freedom of speech is not beyond control. The Court held that the legislation against “loud and raucous noises” is a permissible exercise of municipal authority. The citizen in his home or on the street is not in the position of the passerby who can refuse a pamphlet. He is helpless to escape this interference with his privacy except through the protection of the municipality.

“The preferred position of freedom of speech in a society that cherishes liberty for all does not require legislators to be insensible to claims by citizens to comfort and convenience. To enforce freedom of speech in disregard of the rights of others would be harsh and arbitrary in itself.” This is not a restriction upon communication of ideas, but a reasonable protection from distraction.

J. Black and J. Rutledge, dissenting, challenged the contention that there was proof in the record indicating that Kovacs had as a matter of fact operated his truck in a manner so as to emit “loud and raucous noises.”

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