323 U.S. 516 (1945), 14, Thomas v. Collins

Docket Nº:No. 14
Citation:323 U.S. 516, 65 S.Ct. 315, 89 L.Ed. 430
Party Name:Thomas v. Collins
Case Date:January 08, 1945
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 516

323 U.S. 516 (1945)

65 S.Ct. 315, 89 L.Ed. 430




No. 14

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 8, 1945

Argued May 1, 1944

Reargued October 11, 1944



1. A statute of Texas requires labor organizers to register with and procure an organizer's card from a designated state official before soliciting memberships in labor unions. While a state court order restraining the appellant from violating the statute was in effect, he made a speech before an assemblage of workers. At the end of his speech, he urged his hearers generally to join a union, and also asked an individual by name to become a member. Appellant was sentenced to a fine and imprisonment for contempt.


(a) Upon the record, the penalty for contempt must be treated as having been imposed in respect of both the general and the specific invitations, and the judgment of contempt must be affirmed as to both or neither. P. 528.

On the question whether a restriction could be sustained in respect of the appellant's solicitation of the individual, if considered separately, the Court expresses no opinion.

(b) As applied in this case, the statute imposed a previous restraint upon appellant's rights of free speech and free assembly, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Federal Constitution. P. 532.

(c) A requirement that one register before making a public speech to enlist support for a lawful movement is incompatible with the guaranties of the First Amendment. P. 540.

2. The task of drawing the line between the freedom of the individual and the power of the State is more delicate than usual where the presumption supporting legislation is balanced by the preferred position of the freedoms secured by the First Amendment. P. 529.

3. Restriction of the liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment can be justified only by clear and present danger to the public welfare. P. 530.

4. The rational connection between the remedy provided and the evil to be curbed, which in other contexts might support legislation against attack on due process grounds, will not, in itself, suffice

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to sustain a restriction of the liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment. P. 530.

5. Freedom of speech and of the press, and the rights a the people peaceably to assemble and to petition for redress of grievances, are cognate rights. P. 530.

6. The First Amendment's safeguards are not inapplicable to business or economic activity. P. 531.

7. State regulation of labor unions, whether aimed at fraud or other abuses, must not infringe constitutional rights of free speech and free assembly. P. 532.

141 Tex. 591, 174 S.W.2d 958, reversed.

APPEAL from a judgment in a habeas corpus proceeding which sustained the commitment of the appellant for contempt.

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RUTLEDGE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The appeal is from a decision of the Supreme Court of Texas which denied appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus and remanded him to the custody of appellee, as sheriff of Travis County. 141 Tex. 591, 174 S.W.2d 958. In so deciding, the court upheld, as against constitutional and other objections, appellant's commitment for contempt for violating a temporary restraining order issued by the District Court of Travis County. The order was issued ex parte, and in terms restrained appellant, while in Texas, from soliciting members for or memberships in specified labor unions and others affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, without first obtaining an organizer's card as required by House Bill No. 100, c. 104, General and Special Laws of Texas, Regular Session, 48th Legislature (1943). After the order was served, appellant addressed a mass meeting of workers and, at the end of his speech, asked persons present to join a union. For this he was held in contempt, fined and sentenced to & short imprisonment.

The case has been twice argued here. Each time, appellant has insisted, as he did in the state courts, that the statute, as it has been applied to him, is in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment, as it incorporates the First, imposing a previous restraint upon the rights of freedom of speech and free assembly, and denying him the equal protection of the laws. He urges also that the application made of the statute is inconsistent with the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act, 49 Stat. 449, and other objections which need not be considered. For reasons to be stated we think the statute, as it was applied in this case, imposed previous restraint upon appellant's rights of free speech and free assembly, and the judgment must be reversed.

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The pertinent statutory provisions, § 5 and 12, are part of Texas' comprehensive scheme for regulating labor unions and their activities. They are set forth in the margin.1

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The facts are substantially undisputed. The appellant, Thomas, is the president of the International Union UAW (United Automobile, Aircraft and Agricultural Implements Workers) and a vice-president of the CIO. His duties are manifold, but, in addition to executive functions, they include giving aid and direction in organizing campaigns and by his own statement soliciting members, generally or in particular instances, for his organizations and their affiliated unions. He receives a fixed annual salary as president of the UAW, resides in Detroit, and travels widely through the nation in performing his work.

OWIU (Oil Workers Industrial Union), a CIO affiliate, is the parent organization of many local unions in Texas, having its principal office in Fort Worth. One of these is Local No. 1002, with offices in Harris County and membership consisting largely of employees of the Humble Oil & Refining Company's plant at Bay Town, Texas, not far from Houston. During and prior to September, 1943, CIO and OWIU were engaged in a campaign to organize the employees at this plant into Local No. 1002, after an order previously made by the National Labor Relations Board for the holding of an election. As part of the campaign, a mass meeting was arranged for the evening of September 23, under the

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auspices of OWIU, at the city hall in Pelly, Harris County, near the Bay Town plant. Wide publicity was given to the meeting beforehand. Arrangements were made for Thomas to come to Texas to address it, and wide notice was given to his announced intention of doing so.

Thomas arrived in Houston the evening of September 21. He testified without contradiction that his only object in coming to Houston was to address this meeting, that he did not intend to remain there afterward, and that he had return rail reservations for leaving the State within two days. At about 2:30 o'clock on the afternoon of Thursday, September 23, only some six hours before he was scheduled to speak, Thomas was served with the restraining order and a copy of the fiat.

These had been issued ex parte by the District Court of Travis County (which sits at Austin, the state capital, located about 170 miles from Houston) on the afternoon of September 22, in a proceeding instituted pursuant to § 12 by the State's attorney general. The petition for the order shows on its face it was filed in anticipation of Thomas' scheduled speech.2 And the terms of the order show that it was issued in anticipation of the meeting and the speech.3

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Upon receiving service, Thomas consulted his attorneys and determined to go ahead with the meeting as planned. He did so because he regarded the [65 S.Ct. 319] law and the citation as a restraint upon free speech and free assembly insofar as they prevented his making a speech or asking someone to join a union without having a license or organizer's card at the time.

Accordingly, Thomas went to the meeting, arriving about 8:00 p.m., and, with other speakers, including Massengale and Crossland, both union representatives, addressed an audience of some 300 persons. The meeting was orderly and peaceful. Thomas, in view of the unusual circumstances, had prepared a manuscript originally intended, according to his statement, to embody his entire address. He read the manuscript to the audience. It discussed, among other things, the State's effort, as Thomas conceived it, to interfere with his right to speak and closed with a general invitation to persons present not members of a labor union to join Local No. 1002 and thereby support the labor movement throughout the country. As written, the speech did not address the invitation to any specific individual by name or otherwise.4 But Thomas testified that he added, at the conclusion of the written speech, an oral solicitation of one Pat

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O'Sullivan, a nonunion man in the audience whom he previously had never seen.5

After the meeting, Thomas, with two of the other union speakers, was arrested and taken before a justice of the peace. Complaints were filed in criminal proceedings, presumably pursuant to § 11. Thomas was released on bond, returned to his hotel, and, the next morning, left for Dallas. There, he learned an attachment for his arrest had been issued at Austin by the Travis County District Court, pursuant to the attorney general's motion filed that morning in contempt proceedings for violation of the temporarily restraining order.6

On the evening of September 24, Thomas went to Austin for the hearing upon the temporary injunction set for the morning of the 25th. At this time, he appeared and moved for dismissal of the complaint, for dissolution of the temporary restraining order, and to quash the contempt proceeding. The motions were denied and,...

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