Mr. Robert H. Wallis, of Los Angeles, Cal., for appellants.
Mr. John L. Bland, of Los Angeles, Cal., for appellees.
Mr. Justice RUTLEDGE delivered the opinion of the Court.
On the merits this appeal presents substantial questions concerning the constitutional validity of ordinances of the City of Los Angeles governing the solicitation of contributions for charity. First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds are urged as nullifying them chiefly in the view that they impose prior restraints upon and unduly abridge appellants' rights in the free exrcise of t heir religion. Those rights, as claimed, are to engage in soliciting donations for charity as a part of their religion free from the ordinances' restrictions. [331 U.S. 549 , 551] Similar, but also distinct, questions were involved in Gospel Army v. City of Los Angeles, dismissed today for jurisdictional reasons. 331 U.S. 543 . This case, however, arose procedurally in a different fashion, so that it is not subject to the same jurisdictional defect. And the procedural difference is important, not merely for our jurisdiction but also for determining the propriety of exercising it in the special circumstances presented by this appeal.
The California Supreme Court heard and determined the Gospel Army case several months in advance of this one. It sustained the regulations in both instances, filing separate opinions in each case. 27 Cal.2d 232, 163 P.2d 704; 28 Cal.2d 460, 171 P.2d 8. But the attack upon the city ordinances in the Gospel Army case covered a much wider range than here, and the court's principal opinion was rendered in that cause. Hence in this case it disposed of overlapping issues merely by reference a fortiori to its 'approval' of the challenged provisions in the Gospel Army opinion.
As will more fully appear, this mode of treatment, together with interlacing relationships between provisions involved here and others in the Gospel Army case, has combined with the necessitated dismissal of that appeal to create for us difficult problems in determining exactly how much of the regulatory scheme approved in the Gospel Army opinion, and hence also how much of that decision, must be taken as having been incorporated in the disposition of this cause. By virtue of the California court's method of decision, we are largely without benefit of its judgment upon these matters, including possible questions of severability. Consequently, this fact, together with the different jurisdictional postures in which the cases reach this Court, would force us to determine those questions independently before undertaking any decision on the merits.
That necessity and the difficulties tendered by the extricating problem raise substantial questions concern- [331 U.S. 549 , 552] ing the disposition appropriate, in the unusual situation, to be made of this appeal. In order to present the problem with a fair degree of precision, it is necessary to state in some detail the nature of the two proceedings, their relationships to each other, and their procedural as well as jurisdictional differences.
This suit is one for a writ of prohibition. The appeal is from the California Supreme Court's judgment denying appellants' application for such a writ. 28 Cal.2d 460, 171 P.2d 8. They instituted the suit in the District Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Three, of California. Its object was to test the jurisdiction of the respondent Municipal Court of Los Angeles to proceed with a pending criminal prosecution against Murdock, who is an officer of the Rescue Army. In that court he had been charged with violating three provisions of the city ordinances, had been twice convicted, and twice the convictions had been reversed by the Superior Court of Los Angeles County.