Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. Public Utilities Commission

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Pacific Gas & Electric v. Public Utilities Commission
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued October 8, 1985
Decided February 25, 1986
Full case namePacific Gas & Electric Co. v. Public Utilities Commission of California et al.
Citations475 U.S. 1 (more)
106 S. Ct. 903; 89 L. Ed. 2d 1; 1986 U.S. LEXIS 1
A private publisher cannot be forced to carry messages inconsistent with its views.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
PluralityPowell, joined by Burger, Brennan, O'Connor
ConcurrenceMarshall (in judgment)
DissentRehnquist, joined by White, Stevens (part I only)
Blackmun took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I

Pacific Gas & Electric v. Public Utilities Commission, 475 U.S. 1 (1986), was a United States Supreme Court case involving the requirement that San Francisco-based public utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company carry a message supplied by a public interest group in rebuttal to the messages the utility supplied in its newsletter which it placed in its billing envelope.

The rationale used by the regulatory agency was that the space in the billing envelope which could have material added that did not increase postage belonged to the ratepayers rather than the utility; thus the commission could order the utility to allow other groups to use that space subject to restrictions.

The U.S. Supreme Court found the order of the California Public Utilities Commission to be unconstitutional, as the right to speak includes the right not to carry messages one disagrees with; as the court stated, "the choice to speak includes within it the choice of what not to say."

This is one of the cases which has essentially granted, with very limited exceptions, the absolute right of a publisher to choose not to carry messages it does not agree with.

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