Sound Trucks, Noise

Sound Trucks, Noise.—Physical disruption may occur by other means than the presence of large numbers of demonstrators. For example, the use of sound trucks to convey a message on the streets may disrupt the public peace and may disturb the privacy of persons off the streets. The cases, however, afford little basis for a general statement of constitutional principle. Saia v. New York,1300 while it spoke of “loud-speakers as today indispensable instruments of effective public speech,” held only that a particular prior licensing system was void. A five-to-four majority upheld a statute in Kovacs v. Cooper,1301 which was ambiguous with regard to whether all sound trucks were banned or only “loud and raucous” trucks and which the state court had interpreted as having the latter meaning. In another case, the Court upheld an antinoise ordinance which the state courts had interpreted narrowly to bar only noise that actually or immediately threatened to disrupt normal school activity during school hours.1302 But the Court was careful to tie its ruling to the principle that the particular requirements of education necessitated observance of rules designed to preserve the school environment.1303 More recently, reaffirming that government has “a substantial interest in protecting its citizens from unwelcome noise,” the Court applied time, place, and manner analysis to uphold New York City’s sound amplification guidelines designed to prevent excessive noise and assure sound quality at outdoor concerts in Central Park.1304

1300 334 U.S. 558, 561 (1948).

1301 336 U.S. 77 (1949).

1302 Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104 (1972).

1303 408 U.S. at 117. Citing Saia and Kovacs as examples of reasonable time, place, and manner regulation, the Court observed: “If overamplifled loudspeakers assault the citizenry, government may turn them down.” Id. at 116.

1304 Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781 (1989).

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Last modified: June 9, 2014