Rowan v. United States Post Office Department: Certain Mail Entering Homes (05/04/1970)

Rowan v. United States Post Office Department

Do people have the right to choose what items enter their homes?

Argued: 01/22/1970

Decision Date: 05/04/1970

Decision Record: 8-0; yes

Justices in Favor: Warren Burger, Hugo Black, William Douglas, John Harlan, William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Byron White, Thurgood Marshall

Justices Dissenting: None

Effect of the Decision

This case ruled that a person’s choice to refuse certain mail from entering their homes is not a violation of the company’s First Amendment.

In Favor

In the favoring side of this case, on the side of the Rowan, attorney Joseph Taback argued, “The appeal here before this Court, is from a judgment of the three-judge court of the United States District Court with the Central District of California.

The jurisdiction of the Court is grounded upon Section 1253 of the Title 28 of United States Codes.

The appellants are in the mail order business.

They are distributors and disseminators of books, pamphlets, various matters and materials that traffic and conduct its way through the mail.

The law which is brought here on focus by this appeal is Section 301 of the Public Law 90206 or is codified 39 US Code 4009.

The action below was that for declaratory relief and seeking an injunction against the enforcement, implementation, and administration of the statute.

The result in the court below was a verdict of three to nothing, upholding the constitutionality of the statute and denying the relief sought.

Upon this appeal, it does seem that the issues are made much clear then they were even in the court below.

This is come to be because a statute which reportedly was not an ambiguous has now received the same interpretation by the Government as well as the appellants herein.

Well, interpretation is contrary to the construction inter — and the interpretation given by the US District Court.

This is a new twist, if you will, a matter which is occurred at the time of this appeal.”


In the opposition, on the side of the United States Post Office Department, attorney William D. Ruckelshaus argued, “Since that the — now that there seems to be some concern about just precisely what the Government’s position is, either below or in our motion to affirm in our brief, let me make it perfectly clear, precisely what the Government’s position is.

It’s our position that Congress has said, when an individual in our society receives through the mail material which in his sole discretion, he believes to be a pandering advertising and he again finds in his sole discretion this material to be erotically arousing or sexually provocative, he can tell the sender, “Don’t send me anymore material!”

And he lists, the addressee a list — enlist to support of the Post Office in informing the sender of his desires and if the sender persist, after one prohibiting from the post office, he maybe enjoined from continuing to send the material to an unwilling recipient.

If he still persists, he maybe held in contempt by that Court which has issued the injunction for violating the Court’s order.

We believe that Congress has sought to protect a man in his own home.”


This court decision was a unanimous one. Justice Warren Burger wrote the opinion for the court. He wrote, “The appellants also contend that the requirement that the sender remove the addressee’s name from all mailing lists in his possession violates the Fifth Amendment because it constitutes a taking without due process of law. The appellants are not prohibited from using, selling, or exchanging their mailing lists; they are simply required to delete the names of the complaining addressees from the lists and cease all mailings to those persons.

Appellants next contend that compliance with the statute is confiscatory because the costs attending removal of the names are prohibitive. We agree with the conclusion of the District Court that the

burden does not amount to a violation of due process guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. Particularly when, in the context presently before this Court, it is being applied to commercial enterprises.

300 F.Supp. at 1041. See California State Auto Ins. Bureau v. Malone, 341 U.S. 105 (1951).

There is no merit to the appellants’ allegations that the statute is unconstitutionally vague. A statute is fatally vague only when it exposes a potential actor to some risk or detriment without giving him fair warning of the nature of the proscribed conduct. United States v. Cardiff, 344 U.S. 174, 176 (1952). Here, the appellants know precisely what they must do on receipt of a prohibitory order. The complainants’ names must be removed from the sender’s mailing lists, and he must refrain from future mailings to the named addressees. The sender is exposed to a contempt sanction only if he continues to mail to a particular addressee after administrative and judicial proceedings. Appellants run no substantial risk of miscalculation.”

My Opinion:

In this case, I agree with the rest of the Supreme Court judges. If one opts not to receive a certain mail, for example a junk mail, he or she has the complete right to do so. The Postal Revenue and Federal Salary Act of 1967 required all businesses to stop sending sexual mails to houses when they were told. This, in turn, caused a riot about this act being a violation of the First Amendment. I highly disagree with this. An individual should 100% have the choice of what kinds of mail are sent to their house, especially if its inappropriate to some of the people in that household, such as kids. This is a topic that should not even have to b argued. People have the right to their own houses and should be able to opt for stopping any particular mail they don’t want.

*Justice Leaning L=Left, LC=Left of Center, C=Center, RC=Right of Center, R=Right

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