361 U.S. 516 (1960), 41, Bates v. City of Little Rock

Docket Nº:No. 41
Citation:361 U.S. 516, 80 S.Ct. 412, 4 L.Ed.2d 480
Party Name:Bates v. City of Little Rock
Case Date:February 23, 1960
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 516

361 U.S. 516 (1960)

80 S.Ct. 412, 4 L.Ed.2d 480

Bates

v.

City of Little Rock

No. 41

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 23, 1960

Argued November 18, 1959

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ARKANSAS

Syllabus

Petitioners, custodians of the records of local branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, were tried, convicted and fined for violating identical occupational license tax ordinances of two Arkansas cities by refusing to furnish the city officials with lists of the names of the members of the local branches of the Association.

Held: On the record in this case, compulsory disclosure of the membership lists would work unjustified interference with the members' freedom of association, which is protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by the States; and the convictions are reversed. Pp. 517-527.

(a) It is now beyond dispute that freedom of association for the purpose of advancing ideas and airing grievances is protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by the States. Pp. 522-523.

(b) On the record in this case, it sufficiently appears that compulsory disclosure of the membership lists of the local branches of the Association would work a significant interference with the freedom of association of their members. Pp. 523-524.

(c) The cities here, as instrumentalities of the State, have not demonstrated so cogent an interest in obtaining and making public the membership lists of these organizations as to justify the substantial abridgment of associational freedom which such disclosures would effect, since the record discloses no relevant correlation between the power of the municipalities to impose occupational license taxes and the compulsory disclosure and publication of these membership lists. Pp. 524-527.

229 Ark. 819, 319 S.W.2d 37, reversed.

Page 517

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

Each of the petitioners has been convicted of violating an identical ordinance of an Arkansas municipality by refusing a demand to furnish city officials with a list of the names of the members of a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The question for decision is whether these convictions can stand under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Municipalities in Arkansas are authorized by the State to levy a license tax on any person, firm, individual, or corporation engaging in any "trade, business, profession, vocation or calling" within their corporate limits.1 Pursuant to this authority, the City of Little Rock and the City of North Little Rock have for some years imposed annual license taxes on a broad variety of businesses, occupations, and professions.2 Charitable organizations which engage in the activities affected are relieved from paying the taxes.

In 1957, the two cities added identical amendments to their occupation license tax ordinances. These amendments require that any organization operating within the municipality in question must [80 S.Ct. 414] supply to the City Clerk,

Page 518

upon request and within a specified time, (1) the official name of the organization; (2) its headquarters or regular meeting place; (3) the names of the officers, agents, servants, employees, or representatives, and their salaries; (4) the purpose of the organization; (5) a statement as to dues, assessments, and contributions paid, by whom and when paid, together with a statement reflecting the disposition of the funds and the total net income; (6) an affidavit stating whether the organization is subordinate to a parent organization, and if so, the latter's name. The ordinances expressly provide that all information furnished shall be public and subject to the inspection of any interested party at all reasonable business hours.3

Page 519

Petitioner Bates was the custodian of the records of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Little Rock, and petitioner Williams was the custodian of the records of the North Little Rock branch. These local organizations supplied the two municipalities with all the information required by the ordinances, except that demanded under § 2E of each ordinance, which would have required disclosure of the names of the organizations' members and contributors. Instead of furnishing the detailed breakdown required by this section of the North Little Rock ordinance, the petitioner [80 S.Ct. 415] Williams wrote to the City Clerk as follows:

Page 520

E. The financial statement is as follows:

January 1, 1957 to December 4, 1957

Total receipts from membership and

contributors $252.00

Total expenditures . . . . . . . . $183.60

(to National Office)

Secretarial help . . . . . . . . . 5.00

Stationery, stamps, etc. . . . . . 3.00

---------

Total $191.60

On Hand. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60.40

F. I am attaching my affidavit as president indicating that we are a Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a New York Corporation.

We cannot give you any information with respect to the names and addresses of our members and contributors or any information which may lead to the ascertainment of such information. We base this refusal on the anti-NAACP climate in this state. It is our good faith and belief that the public disclosure of the names of our members and contributors might lead to their harassment, economic reprisals, and even bodily harm. Moreover, even aside from that possibility, we have been advised by our counsel, and we do so believe, that the city has no right under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and under the Constitution and laws of the State of Arkansas to demand the names and addresses of our members and contributors. We assert on behalf of the organization and its members the right to contribute to the NAACP and to seek under its aegis to accomplish the aims and purposes herein described free from any restraints or interference from city or state officials. In addition we assert the right of our

Page 521

members and contributors to participate in the activities of the NAACP, anonymously, a right which has been recognized as the basic right of every American citizen since the founding of this country. . . .

A substantially identical written statement was submitted on behalf of the Little Rock branch of the Association to the Clerk of that city.

After refusing upon further demand to submit the names of the members of her organization,4 each petitioner was tried, convicted, and fined for a violation of the ordinance of her respective municipality. At the Bates trial, evidence was offered to show that many former members of the local organization had declined to renew their membership because of the existence of the ordinance in question.5 Similar evidence was received [80 S.Ct. 416] in the Williams

Page 522

trial,6 as well as evidence that those who had been publicly identified in the community as members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had been subjected to harassment and threats of bodily harm.7

On appeal, the cases were consolidated in the Supreme Court of Arkansas, and, with two justices dissenting, the convictions were upheld. 229 Ark. 819, 319 S.W.2d 37, 43. The court concluded that compulsory disclosure of the membership lists under the circumstances was "not an unconstitutional invasion of the freedoms guaranteed . . . ," but "a mere incident to a permissible legal result."8 Because of the significant constitutional question involved, we granted certiorari. 359 U.S. 988.

Like freedom of speech and a free press, the right of peaceable assembly was considered by the Framers of our Constitution to lie at the foundation of a government

Page 523

based upon the consent of an informed citizenry -- a government dedicated to the establishment of justice and the preservation of liberty. U.S.Const., Amend. I. And it is now beyond dispute that freedom of association for the purpose of advancing ideas and airing grievances is protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by the States. De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353, 364; NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449, 460.

Freedoms such as these are protected not only against heavy-handed frontal attack, but also from being stifled by more subtle governmental interference. Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233; Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105; American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 402; NAACP v. Alabama, supra; Smith v. California, 361 U.S. 147;

It is hardly a novel perception that compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute [an] effective . . . restraint on freedom of association. . . . This Court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one's associations. . . . Inviolability of privacy in group association may, in many circumstances, be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.

NAACP v State of Alabama, 357 U.S. at 462.

[80 S.Ct. 417] On this record, it sufficiently appears that compulsory disclosure of the membership lists of the local branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would work a significant interference with the freedom of association of their members.9 There was

Page 524

substantial uncontroverted evidence that public identification of persons in the community as members of the organizations had been followed by harassment and threats of bodily harm. There was also evidence that fear of community hostility and economic reprisals that would follow public disclosure of the membership lists had discouraged new members from joining the organizations...

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