Cox v. Louisiana

379 U.S. 559
Cox v. Louisiana
Argued: October 21 and 22, 1964
Decided: January 18, 1965


See 380 U.S. 926, 85 S.Ct. 879.

Nils Douglas, New Orleans, La., for appellant.
Ralph L. Roy, Baton Rouge, La., for appellee.
Mr. Justice GOLDBERG delivered the opinion of the Court.

Separate Opinion

Mr. Justice BLACK, concurring in No. 24 and dissenting in No. 49.

I concur in the Court’s judgment reversing appellant Cox’s convictions for violation of the Louisiana statutes prohibiting breach of the peace and obstructing public passages, but I do so for reasons which differ somewhat from those stated in the Court’s opinion. I therefore deem it appropriate to state separately my reasons for voting to hold both these statutes unconstitutional and to reverse the convictions under them. On the other hand, I have no doubt that the State has power to protect judges, jurors, witnesses, and court officers from intimidation by crowds which seek to influence them by picketing, patrolling, or parading in or near the courthouses in which they do their business or the homes in which they live, and I therefore believe that the Louisiana statute which protects the administration of justice by forbidding such interferences is constitutional, both as written and as applied. Since I believe that the evidence showed practically without dispute that appellant violated this statute, I think this conviction should be affirmed.

There was ample evidence for the jury to have found the following to be the facts: On December 14, 1961, 23 persons were arrested and put in jail on a charge of illegal picketing. That night appellant Cox and others made plans to carry on a “demonstration,” that is, a parade and march, through parts of Baton Rouge, ending at the courthouse. There purpose was to “protest” against what they called the “illegal arrest” of the 23 picketers. They neither sought nor obtained any permit for such a use of the streets. The next morning, December 15, the plan was carried out. Some 2,000 protesters marched to a point 101 feet across the street from the courthouse, which also contained the jail. State and county police officers, for reasons as to which there was a conflict in the evidence from which different inferences could be drawn, agreed that the picketers might stay there for a few minutes. The group sang songs along with the prisoners in the jail and did other things set out in the Court’s opinion. Later state and county officials told Cox, the group’s leader, that the crowd had to “move on.” Cox told his followers to stay where they were and they did. Officers then used tear gas and the picketers ran away. Cox was later arrested.

I agree with that part of the Court’s opinion holding that the Louisiana breach-of-the-peace statute [1] on its face and as construed by the State Supreme Court is so broad as to be unconstitutionally vague under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. See Winters v. People of State of New York, 333 U.S. 507, 509-510, 68 S.Ct. 665, 667, 92 L.Ed. 840. The statute does not itself define the conditions upon which people who want to express views may be allowed to use the public streets and highways, but leaves this to be defined by law enforcement officers. The statute therefore neither forbids all crowds to congregate and picket on streets, nor is it narrowly drawn to prohibit congregating or patrolling under certain clearly defined conditions while preserving the freedom to speak of those who are using the streets as streets in the ordinary way that the State permits. A state statute of either of the two types just mentioned, regulating conduct-patrolling and marching-as distinguished from speech, would in my judgment be constitutional, subject only to the condition that if such a law had the effect of indirectly impinging on freedom of speech, press, or religion, it would be unconstitutional if under the circumstances it appeared that the State’s interest in suppressing the conduct was not sufficient to outweigh the individual’s interest in engaging in conduct closely involving his First Amendment freedoms. As this Court held in Schneider v. State of New Jersey, 308 U.S. 147, 161, 60 S.Ct. 146, 151, 84 L.ed. 155:

“Mere legislative preferences or beliefs respecting matters of public convenience may well support regulation directed at other personal activities, but be insufficient to justify such as diminishes the exercise of rights so vital to the maintenance of democratic institutions. And so, as cases arise, the delicate and difficult task falls upon the courts to weigh the circumstances and to appraise the substantiality of the reasons advanced in support of the regulation of the free enjoyment of the rights.”

See also, e.g., Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Virginia ex rel. Virginia State Bar, 377 U.S. 1, 84 S.Ct. 1113, 12 L.Ed.2d 89; NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 83 S.Ct. 328, 9 L.Ed.2d 405; NAACP v. State of Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449, 78 S.Ct. 1163, 2 L.Ed.2d 1488; Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141, 63 S.Ct. 862, 87 L.Ed. 1313; Cantwell v. State of Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 60 S.Ct. 900, 84 L.Ed. 1213; Lovell v.City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, 58 S.Ct. 666, 82 L.Ed. 949; Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233, 56 S.Ct. 444, 80 L.Ed. 660. As I discussed at length in my dissenting opinion in Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U.S. 109, 141-142, 79 S.Ct. 1081, 1100-1101, 3 L.Ed.2d 1115, when passing on the validity of a regulation of conduct, which may indirectly infringe on free speech, this Court does, and I agree that it should, “weigh the circumstances” in order to protect, not to destroy, freedom of speech, press, and religion.

The First and Fourteenth Amendments, I think, take away from government, state and federal, all power to restrict freedom of speech, press, and assembly where people have a right to be for such purposes. This does not mean however, that these amendments also grant a constitutional right to engage in the conduct of picketing or patrolling, whether on publicly owned streets or on privately owned property. See National Labor Board v. Fruit and Vegetable Packers and Warehousemen, Local 760, 377 U.S. 58, 76, 84 S.Ct. 1063, 1073, 12 L.Ed.2d 129 (concurring opinion). Were the law otherwise, people on the streets, in their homes and anywhere else could be compelled to listen against their will to speakers they did not want to hear. Picketing, though it may be utilized to communicate ideas, is not speech, and therefore is not of itself protected by the First Amendment. Hughes v. Superior Court, 339 U.S. 460, 464-466, 70 S.Ct. 718, 720-722, 94 L.Ed. 985; Giboney v. Empire Storage & Ice Co., 336 U.S. 490, 69 S.Ct. 684, 93 L.Ed. 834; Bakery and Pastry Drivers and Helpers Local 802, etc. v. Wohl, 315 U.S. 769, 775-777, 62 S.Ct. 816, 819-820, 86 L.Ed. 1178 (Douglas, J., concurring).

However, because Louisiana’s breach-of-peach statute is not narrowly drawn to assure nondiscriminatory application, I think it is constitutionally invalid under our holding in Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 83 S.Ct. 680, 9 L.Ed.2d 697. See also Mussser v. State of Utah, 333 U.S. 95, 96-97, 68 S.Ct. 397, 398, 92 L.Ed. 562. Edwards, however, as I understand it, did not hold that either private property owners or the States are constitutionally required to supply a place for people to exercise freedom of speech or assembly. See Bell v. State of Maryland, 378 U.S. 226, 344-346, 84 S.Ct. 1814, 1878-1879, 12 L.Ed.2d 822 (dissenting opinion). What Edwards as I read it did hold, and correctly I think, was not that the Federal Constitution prohibited South Carolina from making it unlawful for people to congregate, picket, and parade on or near that State’s capitol grounds, but rather that in the absence of a clear, narrowly drawn, nondiscriminatory statute prohibiting such gatherings and picketing, South Carolina could not punish people for assembling at the capitol to petition for redress of grievances. In the case before us Louisiana has by a broad, vague statute given policemen an unlimited power to order people off the streets, not to enforce a specific, nondiscriminatory state statute forbidding patrolling and picketing, but rather whenever a policeman makes a decision on his own personal judgment that views being expressed on the street are provoking or might provoke a breach of the peace. Such a statute does not provide for government by clearly defined laws, but rather for government by the moment-to-moment opinions of a policeman on his beat. Compare Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 369-370, 6 S.Ct. 1064, 1070-1071, 30 L.Ed. 220. This kind of statute provides a perfect device to arrest people whose views do not suit the policeman or his superiors, while leaving free to talk anyone with whose views the police agree. See Feiner v. People of State of New York, 340 U.S. 315, 321, 71 S.Ct. 303, 307, 95 L.Ed. 267 (dissenting opinion); cf. Peters v. Hobby, 349 U.S. 331, 349-350, 75 S.Ct. 790, 799-800, 99 L.Ed. 1129 (concurring opinion); Barsky v. Board of Regents, 347 U.S. 442, 463-464, 74 S.Ct. 650, 661-662, 98 L.Ed. 829 (dissenting opinion); Shaughnessy v. United States ex rel. Mezei, 345 U.S. 206, 217-218, 73 S.Ct. 625, 631-632, 97 L.Ed. 956 (dissenting opinion); Ludecke v. Watkins, 335 U.S. 160, 173, 68 S.Ct. 1429, 1436, 92 L.Ed. 1881 (dissenting opinion). In this situation I think Edwards v. South Carolina and other such cases invalidating statutes for vagueness are controlling. Moreover, because the statute makes an exception for labor organizations and therefore tries to limit access to the streets to some views but not others, I believe it is unconstitutional for the reasons discussed in Part II of this opinion, dealing with the street-obstruction statute, infra. For all the reasons stated I concur in reversing the conviction based on the breach-of-peace statute.


The Louisiana law against obstructing the streets and sidewalks, [2] while applied here so as to convict Negroes for assembling and picketing on streets and sidewalks for the purpose of publicly protesting racial discrimination, expressly provides that the statute shall not bar picketing and assembly by labor unions protesting unfair treatment of union members. I believe that the First and Fourteenth Amendments require that if the streets of a town are open to some views, they must be open to all. It is worth noting in passing that the objectives of labor unions and of the group led by Cox here may have much in common. Both frequently protest discrimination against their members in the matter of employment. Compare New Negro Alliance v. Sanitary Grocery Co., 303 U.S. 552, 561, 58 S.Ct. 703, 707, 82 L.Ed. 1012. This Louisiana law opens the streets for union assembly, picketing, and public advocacy, while denying that opportunity to groups protesting against racial discrimination. As I said above, I have no doubt about the general power of Louisiana to bar all picketing on its streets and highways. Standing, patrolling, or marching back and forth on streets is conduct, not speech, and as conduct can be regulated or prohibited. But by specifically permitting picketing for the publication of labor union views, Louisiana is attempting to pick and choose among the views it is willing to have discussed on its streets. It thus is trying to prescribe by law what matters of public interest people whom it allows to assemble on its streets may and may not discuss. This seems to me to be censorship in a most odious form, unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. And to deny this appellant and his group use of the streets because of their views against racial discrimination, while allowing other groups to use the streets to voice opinions on other subjects, also amounts, I think, to an invidious discrimination forbidden by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. [3] Moreover, as the Court points out, city officials despite this statute apparently have permitted favored groups other than labor unions to block the streets with their gatherings. For these reasons I concur in reversing the conviction based on this law.


I would sustain the conviction of appellant for violation of LSA-Rev.Stat. § 14:401 (Cum.Supp.1962), which makes it an offense for anyone, under any conditions, to picket or parade near a courthouse, residence or other building used by a judge, juror, witness, or court officer, “with the intent of influencing” any of them. [4] Certainly the record shows beyond all doubt that the purpose of the 2,000 or more people who stood right across the street from the courthouse and jail was to protest the arrest of members of their group who were then in jail. As the court’s opinion states, appellant Cox so testified. Certainly the most obvious reason for their protest at the courthouse was to influence the judge and other court officials who used the courthouse and performed their official duties there. The Court attempts to support its holding by its inference that the Chief of Police gave his consent to picketing the courthouse. But quite apart from the facts that a police chief cannot authorize violations of his State’s criminal laws, [5] there was strong, emphatic testimony that if any consent was given it was limited to telling Cox and his group to come no closer to the courthouse than they had already come without the consent of any official, city, state, or federal. And there was also testimony that when told to leave appellant Cox defied the order by telling the crowd not to move. I fail to understand how the Court can justify the reversal of this conviction because of a permission which testimony in the record denies was given, which could not have been authoritatively given anyway, and which even if given was soon afterwards revoked. While I agree that the record does not show boisterous or violent conduct or indecent language on the part of the “demonstrators,” the ample evidence that this group planned the march on the courthouse and carried it out for the express purpose of influencing the courthouse officials in the performance of their official duties brings this case squarely within the prohibitions of the Louisiana statute and I think leaves us with no alternative but to sustain the conviction unless the statute itself is unconstitutional, and I do not believe that this statute is unconstitutional, either on its face or as applied.

This statute, like the federal one which it closely resembles, [6] was enacted to protect courts and court officials from the intimidation and dangers that inhere in huge gatherings at courthouse doors and jail doors to protest arrests and to influence court officials in performing their duties. The very purpose of a court system is to adjudicate controversies, both criminal and civil, in the calmness and solemnity of the courtroom according to legal procedures. Justice cannot be rightly administered, nor are the lives and safety of prisoners secure, where throngs of people clamor against the processes of justice right outside the courthouse or jailhouse doors. The streets are not now and never have been the proper place to administer justice. Use of the streets for such purposes has always proved disastrous to individual liberty in the long run, whatever fleeting benefits may have appeared to have been achieved. And minority groups, I venture to suggest, are the ones who always have suffered and always will suffer most when street multitudes are allowed to substitute their pressures for the less glamorous but more dependable and temperate processes of the law. Experience demonstrates that it is not a far step from what to many seems the earnest, honest, patriotic, kind-spirited multitude of today, to the fanatical, threatening, lawless mob of tomorrow. And the crowds that press in the streets for noble goals today can be supplanted tomorrow by street mobs pressuring the courts for precisely opposite ends.

Minority groups in particular need always to bear in mind that the Constitution, while it requires States to treat all citizens equally and protect them in the exercise of rights granted by the Federal Constitution and laws, does not take away the State’s power, indeed its duty, to keep order and to do justice according to law. Those who encourage minority groups to believe that the United States Constitution and federal laws give them a right to patrol and picket in the streets whenever they choose, in order to advance what they think to be a just and noble end, do no service to those minority groups, their cause, or their country. I am confident from this record that this appellant violated the Louisiana statute because of a mistaken belief that he and his followers had a constitutional right to do so, because of what they believed were just grievances. But the history of the past 25 years if it shows nothing else shows that his group’s constitutional and statutory rights have to be protected by the courts, which must be kept free from intimidation and coercive pressures of any kind. Government under law as ordained by our Constitution is too precious, too sacred, to be jeopardized by subjecting the courts to intimidatory practices that have been fatal to individual liberty and minority rights wherever and whenever such practices have been allowed to poison the streams of justice. I would be wholly unwilling to join in moving this country a single step in that direction.


^1  LSA-Rev.Stat. § 14:103.1 (Cum.Supp.1962) provides in relevant part;

“Whoever with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, or under circumstances such that a breach of the peace may be occasioned thereby: (1) crowds or congregates with others, providing however nothing herein contained shall apply to a bona fide legitimate labor organization or to any of its legal activities such as picketing, lawful assembly or concerted activity in the interest of its members for the purpose of accomplishing or securing more favorable wage standards, hours of employment and working conditions, in or upon * * * a public street or public highway, or upon a public sidewalk, or any other public place or building * * * and who fails or refuses to disperse and move on, or disperse or move on, when ordered so to do by any law enforcement officer of any municipality, or parish, in which such act or acts are committed, or by any law enforcement officer of the state of Louisiana, or any other authorized person * * * shall be guilty of disturbing the peace. * * * ”

^2  LSA-Rev.Stat. § ’14:100.1 (Cum.Supp.1962) provides in relevant part:

“No person shall wilfully obstruct the free, convenient and normal use of any public sidewalk, street, highway, bridge, alley, road, or other passageway, or the entrance, corridor or passage of any public building, structure, watercraft or ferry, by impeding, hindering, stifling, retarding or restraining traffic or passage thereon or therein.

“Providing however nothing herein contained shall apply to a bona fide legitimate labor organization or to any of its legal activities such as picketing, lawful assembly or concerted activity in the interest of its members for the purpose of accomplishing or securing more, favorable wage standards, hours of employment and working conditions. * * * ”

^3  It is of interest that appellant Cox, according to a state witness, said this about the reason his group picketed the courthouse: “[H]e said that in effect that it was a protest against the illegal arrest of some of their members and that other people were allowed to picket and that they should have the right to picket * * *.”

^4  LSA-Rev.Stat. § 14:401 (Cum.Supp.1962) provides in relevant part:

“Whoever, with the intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding the administration of justice, or with the intent of influencing any judge, juror, witness, or court officer, in the discharge of his duty pickets or parades in or near a building housing a court of the State of Louisiana, or in or near a building or residence occupied or used by such judge, juror, witness, or court officer, or with such intent uses any sound-truck or similar device or resorts to any other demonstration in or near any such building or residence, shall be fined nor more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than one year, or both. * * * ”

^5  Cf. United States v. Philadelphia National Bank, 374 U.S. 321, 350-352, 83 S.Ct. 1715, 1734-1736, 10 L.Ed.2d 915; California v. Federal Power Commission, 369 U.S. 482, 484-485, 82 S.Ct. 901, 903-904, 8 L.Ed.2d 54; United States v. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., 310 U.S. 150, 225-227, 60 S.Ct. 811, 846, 84 L.Ed. 1129.

^6  18 U.S.C. § 1507 (1958 ed.).

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