312 U.S. 287 (1941), 1, Milk Wagon Drivers Union of Chicago, Local 753

Docket Nº:No. 1
Citation:312 U.S. 287, 61 S.Ct. 552, 85 L.Ed. 836
Party Name:Milk Wagon Drivers Union of Chicago, Local 753
Case Date:February 10, 1941
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 287

312 U.S. 287 (1941)

61 S.Ct. 552, 85 L.Ed. 836

Milk Wagon Drivers Union of Chicago, Local 753

No. 1

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 10, 1941

v. Meadowmoor Dairies, Inc.

Argued December 13, 16, 1940



1. A State is at liberty under the Fourteenth Amendment to use injunctive powers vested in its courts for the prevention of violence by labor unions in industrial disputes. P. 292.

2. And where the controversy is attended by peaceful picketing and by acts of violence, and the violence has been such that continuation of the picketing will operate coercively by exciting fear that violence will be resumed, an injunction by a state court forbidding the picketing as well as the violence does not infringe the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 294.

3. The master in the state court found "intimidation of the customers . . . by the commission of the acts of violence," and the supreme court of the State justified its injunction against picketing because picketing,

in connection with or following a series

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of assaults or destruction of property, could not help but have the effect of intimidating the persons in front of whose premises such picketing occurred and of causing them to believe that noncompliance would possibly be followed by acts of an unlawful character.

Held that it is not for this Court to make an independent valuation of the testimony before the matter or to substitute its judgment for that of the state court resolving conflict in the testimony or its interpretation. P. 294.

4. In determining whether acts of violence accompanying an industrial controversy were attributable to a labor union, rather than to irresponsible outsiders, a state court is not confined to the technicalities of the laws of agency. P. 295.

5. The present decision does not bar resort to the state court for a modification of the terms of the injunction should that court find that the passage of time has deprived the picketing of its coercive influence. P. 298.

6. Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, and Carlson v. California, 310 U.S. 106, distinguished. P. 297.

371 Ill. 377; 21 N.E.2d 308, affirmed.

Certiorari, 310 U.S. 655, to review a decree directing a permanent injunction against acts of violence and picketing by a labor union.

Page 291

FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Supreme Court of Illinois sustained an injunction against the Milk Wagon Drivers Union over the latter's claim that it involved an infringement of the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Since this ruling raised a question intrinsically important, as well as affecting the scope of Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, and Carlson v. California, 310 U.S. 106, we brought the case here. 310 U.S. 655.

The "vendor system" for distributing milk in Chicago gave rise to the dispute. Under that system, which was fully analyzed in Milk Wagon Drivers' Union v. Lake Valley Farm Products Inc., 311 U.S. 91, milk is sold by the dairy companies to vendors operating their own trucks who resell to retailers. These vendors departed from the working standards theretofore achieved by the Union for its members as dairy employees. The Union, in order to compel observance of the established standards, took action against dairies using the vendor system. The present respondent, Meadowmoor Dairies, Inc., brought suit against the Union and its officials to stop interference with the distribution of its products. A preliminary injunction restraining all Union conduct, violent and peaceful, promptly issued, and the case was referred to a master for report. Besides peaceful picketing of the stores handling Meadowmoor's products, the master found that there had been violence on a considerable scale. Witnesses testified to more than fifty instances of window-smashing; explosive bombs caused substantial injury to the plants of Meadowmoor and another dairy using the vendor system and to five stores; stench bombs were dropped in five stores; three trucks of vendors were wrecked, seriously injuring one driver, and another was driven into a river; a store was set on fire and in large

Page 292

measure ruined; two trucks of vendors were burned; a storekeeper and a truck driver were severely beaten; workers at a dairy which, like Meadowmoor, used the vendor system were held with guns and severely beaten about the head while being told "to join the union;" carloads of men followed vendors' trucks, threatened the drivers, and in one instance shot at the truck and driver. In more than a dozen of these occurrences, involving window-smashing, bombings, burnings, the wrecking of trucks, shootings, and beatings, there was testimony to identify the wrongdoers as union men.1 In the light of his findings, the master recommended that all picketing, and not merely violent acts, should be enjoined. The trial court, however, accepted the recommendations only as to acts of violence, and permitted peaceful picketing. The reversal of this ruling by the supreme court, 371 Ill. 377, 21 N.E.2d 308, directing a permanent injunction as recommended by the master, is now before us.

The question which thus emerges is whether a state can choose to authorize its courts to enjoin acts of picketing, in themselves peaceful, when they are enmeshed with contemporaneously violent conduct which is concededly outlawed. The Constitution is invoked to deny Illinois the power to authorize its courts to prevent the continuance and recurrence of flagrant violence, found after an extended litigation to have occurred under specific circumstances, by the terms of a decree familiar in such cases. Such a decree, arising out of a particular controversy and adjusted to it, raises totally different constitutional problems [61 S.Ct. 555] from those that would be presented by an abstract statute with an overhanging and undefined threat to free utterance. To assimilate the two is

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to deny to the states their historic freedom to deal with controversies through the concreteness of individual litigation, rather than through the abstractions of a general law.

The starting point is Thornhill's case. That case invoked the constitutional protection of free speech on behalf of a relatively modern means for "publicizing, without annoyance or threat of any kind, the facts of a labor dispute." 310 U.S. 100. The whole series of cases defining the scope of free speech under the Fourteenth Amendment are facets of the same principle in that they all safeguard modes appropriate for assuring the right to utterance in different situations. Peaceful picketing is the workingman's means of communication.

It must never be forgotten, however, that the Bill of Rights was the child of the Enlightenment. Back of the guarantee of free speech lay faith in the power of an appeal to reason by all the peaceful means for gaining access to the mind. It was in order to avert force and explosions due to restrictions upon rational modes of communication that the guarantee of free speech was given a generous scope. But utterance in a context of violence can lose its significance as an appeal to reason and become part of an instrument of force. Such utterance was not meant to be sheltered by the Constitution.

Still it is of prime importance that no constitutional freedom, least of all the guarantees of the Bill of Rights, be defeated by insubstantial findings of fact screening reality. That is why this Court has the ultimate power to search the records in the state courts where a claim of constitutionality is effectively made. And so the right of free speech cannot be denied by drawing from a trivial rough incident or a moment of animal exuberance the conclusion that otherwise peaceful picketing has the taint of force.

Page 294

In this case, the master found "intimidation of the customers of the plaintiff's vendors by the Commission of the acts of violence," and the supreme court justified its decision because picketing,

in connection with or following a series of assaults or destruction of property, could not help but have the effect of intimidating the persons in front of whose premises such picketing occurred and of causing them to believe that noncompliance would possibly be followed by acts of an unlawful character.

It is not for us to make an independent valuation of the testimony before the master. We have not only his findings, but his findings authenticated by the state of Illinois speaking through her supreme court. We can reject such a determination only if we can say that it is so without warrant as to be a palpable evasion of the constitutional guarantee here invoked. The place to resolve conflicts in the testimony and in its interpretation was in the Illinois courts, and not here. To substitute our judgment for that of the state court is to transcend the limits of our authority. And to do so in the name of the Fourteenth Amendment in a matter peculiarly touching the local policy of a state regarding violence tends to discredit the great immunities of the Bill of Rights. No one will doubt that Illinois can protect its storekeepers from being coerced by fear of window-smashings or burnings or bombings. And acts which, in isolation, are peaceful may be part of a coercive thrust when entangled with acts of violence. The picketing in this case was set in a background of violence. In such a setting, it could justifiably be concluded that the momentum of fear generated by past violence would survive even though future picketing might be wholly peaceful. So the Supreme Court of Illinois found. We cannot say that such a finding so contradicted experience as to warrant our rejection. Nor can we say that it was...

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