RAILWAY EXPRESS AGENCY v. NEW YORK
A New York City traffic ordinance prohibited the display of commercial advertising on vehicles using public streets. The ordinance exempted advertisements displayed on vehicles that related to the business interests of the owners. Express Railway Agency(ERA) sold space on the sides of its trucks for unrelated advertising until a police court convicted it for violating the ordinance. A state court of special sessions and the Court of Appeals of the State of New York both affirmed. ERA argued that the ordinance violated the Equal Protection Clause since the distinction between related and unrelated advertisements was not relevant to the purpose of the ordinance.
Did a New York City traffic ordinance that prohibited vehicles from displaying advertisements unrelated to the owner's business interests violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
No. Justice William O. Douglas delivered the opinion for a unanimous court. The Court found that the ordinance was valid because it functioned to limit distractions to motorists, the purpose for which it was intended. The Court ruled that "it is no requirement of equal protection that all evils of the same genus be eradicated or none at all." Therefore, a city could ban some advertisements that distracted pedestrians without having to eliminate every distraction. Though concurring with the Court's decision, 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."