By a vote of eight-to-one, the court struck down a local Ohio law that was aimed at protecting the elderly from criminals or con-artists. The Jehovah’s Witness religious group challenged the law, saying their religion calls for spreading their message door-to-door.
The justices decided that the First Amendment right to free speech includes doorstep distribution and that the right cannot be restricted by a registration requirement.
In one of two statements issued on the ruling, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, “It is offensive, not only to the values protected by the First Amendment, but to the very notion of a free society, that in the context of everyday public discourse a citizen must first inform the government of her desire to speak to her neighbors and then obtain a permit to do so.”
The court issued several other rulings Monday including decisions involving the Internal Revenue Service, police searches and the American with Disabilities Act.
In the IRS decision, the court ruled six-to-three that the agency can use estimates based on credit card receipts to ensure it is collecting enough taxes on restaurant tips left in cash. The ruling is considered a defeat for some 200,000-restaurant employees and other workers who are responsible for reporting their tip earnings to the IRS.
In another six-to-three decision, the court ruled that police who want to search for drugs or other evidence on buses or other forms of public transportation do not have to first tell passengers of their legal rights. The ruling rejects the argument that passengers involved in a search might feel coerced into cooperating since they are confined to a small space.
In the fourth Supreme Court ruling to narrow the scope of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the justices ruled unanimously that individuals cannot seek damage awards from city and government boards that refuse to build wheelchair ramps or make other accommodations for the disabled.
Under the ruling, agencies and local authorities that accept federal money will be protected from being sued for pre-emptive punitive damages but can face lawsuits for actual damages or be ordered to change their accessibility for the disabled.
With two weeks left in the current court term, the justices have several more high-profile rulings to make including cases involving the death penalty and government vouchers for church schools.