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April 11, 1904



Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day

Author: Brown

[ 194 U.S. Page 106]

 MR. JUSTICE BROWN delivered the opinion of the court.

The first number of Masters in Music was issued in January, 1903, and an application was immediately made to the Postmaster General for its admission to the mails as second class mail matter. The application was denied, and plaintiff immediately, and before the issue of another number, filed this bill. The publication purports to be a "monthly magazine,"

[ 194 U.S. Page 107]

     salable at twenty cents per number, and to subscribers at two dollars a year. The first number is devoted to the works of Mozart and contains a portrait, a biography of four pages, an essay of ten pages upon his art and thirty-two pages of his music. The preliminary page contained a notice to the effect that "Masters in Music will be unlike any other musical magazine. Each monthly issue, complete in itself, will be devoted to one of the world's great musicians, giving thirty-two pages of engraved piano music, which will comprise those compositions or movements that represent the composer at his best, with editorial notes suggesting the proper interpretation; a beautiful frontispiece portrait, a life, and estimates of his genius and place in art, chosen from the writings of the most eminent musical critics. The text will thus constitute an interesting and authoritative monthly lesson in musical history; its selections of music will form a library of the world's musical masterpieces, and all at slight cost. . . . The announcement of the contents of the February issue, which will treat of Chopin, will be found on another page."

The Postmaster General placed his refusal to allow this magazine to be transmitted as second class mail matter upon the ground that each number was complete in itself; had no connection with other numbers save in the circumstance that they all treated of masters in music, and that these issues were in fact sheet music disguised as a periodical, and should be classified as third class mail matter.

Conceding the principle established in the two cases just decided to be that the fact that books published at stated intervals and in consecutive numbers do not thereby become periodicals, even though in other respects they conform to the requirements of section 14, cases may still arise where the classification of a certain publication may be one of doubt. Such is this case. But we think that, although the question is largely one of law, determined by a comparison of the exhibit with the statute, there is some discretion left in the Postmaster General with respect to the classification of such publications

[ 194 U.S. Page 108]

     as mail matter, and that the exercise of such discretion ought not to be interfered with unless the court be clearly of opinion that it was wrong. The Postmaster General is charged with the duty of examining these publications and of determining to which class of mail matter they properly belong; and we think his decision should not be made the subject of judicial investigation in every case where one of the parties thereto is dissatisfied. The consequence of a different rule would be that the court might be flooded by appeals of this kind to review the decision of the Postmaster General in every individual instance. In the case of American School of Magnetic Healing v. McAnnulty, 187 U.S. 94, 104, the Post Office authorities were held to have acted beyond their authority in rejecting all correspondence which the plaintiff upon the subject of the treatment of diseases by mental action; but while it was said in that case that the question involved was a legal one, it was intimated that something must be left to the discretion of the Postmaster General.

It has long been the settled practice of this court in land cases to treat the findings of the Land Department upon questions of fact as conclusive, although such proceedings involve, to a certain extent, the exercise of judicial power. As was said in Burfenning v. Chicago, St. Paul &c. R. R., 163 U.S. 321, 323: "Whether, for instance, a certain tract is swamp land or not, saline land or not, mineral land or not, presents a question of fact not resting on record, dependent on oral testimony; and it cannot be doubted that the decision of the Land Department, one way or the other, in reference to these questions is conclusive and not open to relitigation in the courts, except in those cases of fraud, etc., which permit any determination to be reexamined." (Citing cases.) See also Johnson v. Drew, 171 U.S. 93; Gardner v. Bonestell, 180 U.S. 362.

But there is another class in which the rule is somewhat differently, and perhaps more broadly, stated, and that is, that where Congress has committed to the head of a department ...

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