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U.S. Supreme Court

Schaumburg v. Citizens for Better Environment, 444 U.S. 620 (1980)

Village of Schaumburg v. Citizens for Better Environment

No. 78-1335

Argued October 30, 1979

Decided February 20, 1980

444 U.S. 620


Petitioner village has an ordinance prohibiting door-to-door or on-street solicitation of contributions by charitable organizations that do not use at least 75 percent of their receipts for "charitable purposes," such purposes being defined to exclude solicitation expenses, salaries, overhead, and other administrative expenses. After petitioner denied respondent Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE) (a nonprofit environmental protection organization) a solicitation permit because it could not meet the ordinance's 75-percent requirement, CBE sued petitioner in Federal District Court, alleging that such requirement violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The District Court granted summary judgment for CBE. The Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting petitioner's argument that summary judgment was inappropriate because there was an unresolved factual dispute as to the true character of CBE's organization, and holding that, since CBE challenged the facial validity of the ordinance on First Amendment grounds, the facts as to CBE's internal affairs and operations were immaterial, and therefore not an obstacle to the granting of summary judgment. The court concluded that, even if the 75-percent requirement might be valid as applied to other types of charitable solicitation, the requirement was unreasonable on its face because it barred solicitation by advocacy-oriented organizations even where the contributions would be used for reasonable salaries of those who gathered and disseminated information relevant to the organization's purpose.

Held: The ordinance in question is unconstitutionally overbroad in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 444 U. S. 628-639.

(a) Charitable appeals for funds, on the street or door to door, involve a variety of speech interests -- communication of information, dissemination and propagation of views and ideas, and advocacy of causes -- that are within the First Amendment's protection. While soliciting financial support is subject to reasonable regulation, such regulation must give due regard to the reality that solicitation is characteristically intertwined with informative and perhaps persuasive speech seeking support for particular causes or for particular views on economic,

Page 444 U. S. 621

political, or social issues, and to the reality that without solicitation the flow of such information and advocacy would likely cease. Moreover, since charitable solicitation does more than inform private economic decisions and is not primarily concerned with providing information about the characteristics and costs of goods and services, it is not dealt with as a variety of purely commercial speech. Pp. 444 U. S. 628-632.

(b) The Court of Appeals was free to inquire whether the ordinance was overbroad, a question of law that involved no dispute about CBE's characteristics, and thus properly proceeded to rule on the merits of the summary judgment. CBE was entitled to its judgment of facial invalidity if the ordinance purported to prohibit canvassing by a substantial category of charities to which the 75-percent limitation could not be applied consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, even if there was no demonstration that CBE itself was one of these organizations. Pp. 444 U. S. 633-635.

(c) The 75-percent limitation is a direct and substantial limitation on protected activity that cannot be sustained unless it serves a sufficiently strong, subordinating interest that petitioner is entitled to protect. Here, petitioner's proffered justifications that such limitation is intimately related to substantial governmental interests in preventing fraud and protecting public safety and residential privacy are inadequate, and such interests could be sufficiently served by measures less destructive of First Amendment interests. Pp. 444 U. S. 635-639.

590 F.2d 220, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 444 U. S. 639.

Page 444 U. S. 622

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