371 U.S. 415 (1963), 5, National Association for the Advancement

Docket Nº:No. 5
Citation:371 U.S. 415, 83 S.Ct. 328, 9 L.Ed.2d 405
Party Name:National Association for the Advancement
Case Date:January 14, 1963
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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371 U.S. 415 (1963)

83 S.Ct. 328, 9 L.Ed.2d 405

National Association for the Advancement

No. 5

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 14, 1963

of Colored People v. Button

Argued November 8,1961

Restored to the calendar for reargument April 2, 1962

Reargued October 9, 1962

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA

Syllabus

1. Petitioner sued in a Federal District Court to enjoin enforcement of a Virginia statute on the ground that, as applied to it, the statute violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court abstained from passing on the validity of the statute pending an authoritative interpretation of it by the state courts, but it retained jurisdiction. Petitioner then applied to a state court for a binding adjudication of all of its claims and a permanent injunction and declaratory relief, and it made no reservation to the disposition of the entire case by the state courts. A state trial court held the statute to be both constitutional and applicable to petitioner, and this decision was affirmed by the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Petitioner then petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, and this Court granted certiorari.

Held: The District Court's reservation of jurisdiction was purely formal; it did not impair the jurisdiction of this Court to review an otherwise final state court judgment; the judgment below was "final," within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1257, and the case is properly before this Court. Pp. 427-428.

2. Chapter 33 of the Virginia Acts of Assembly, Extra Sess. 1956, amended former statutes defining and punishing malpractice by attorneys so as to broaden the definition of solicitation of legal business to include acceptance of employment or compensation from any person or organization not a party to a judicial proceeding and having no pecuniary right or liability in it. It also made it an offense for any such person or organization to solicit business for any attorney. Petitioner, a corporation whose major purpose was the elimination of racial discrimination, sued in a state court to enjoin enforcement of this Chapter and for a declaratory judgment

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that, as applied to petitioner, its affiliates, officers, members, attorneys retained or paid by it, and litigants to whom it might give assistance in cases involving racial discrimination, the Chapter violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court found that petitioner, through its State Conference, had formed a legal staff to direct actions pertaining to racial discrimination; urged the institution of suits to challenge racial discrimination; offered the services of attorneys selected and paid by it and its affiliates; and, with its affiliates, controlled the conduct of such litigation.

Held: The activities of petitioner, its affiliates and legal staff shown on this record are modes of expression and association protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments which Virginia may not prohibit, under its power to regulate the legal profession, as improper solicitation of legal business violative of Chapter 33 and the Canons of Professional Ethics. Pp. 417-445.

(a) Although petitioner is a corporation, it may assert its right and that of its members and lawyers to associate for the purpose of assisting persons who seek legal redress for infringement of their constitutionally guaranteed rights. P. 428.

(b) Abstract discussion is not the only species of communication which the Constitution protects; the First Amendment also protects vigorous advocacy, certainly of lawful ends, against governmental intrusion. P. 429.

(c) In the context of petitioner's objectives, litigation is not a means of resolving private differences; it is a form of political expression, and a means for achieving the lawful objectives of equality of treatment by all governments, federal, state and local, for the members of the Negro community. Pp. 429-430.

(d) In order to find constitutional protection for the kind of cooperative, organizational activity disclosed by this record, it is not necessary to subsume such activity under a narrow, literal conception of freedom of speech, petition or assembly, for there is no longer any doubt that the First and Fourteenth Amendments protect certain forms of orderly group activity. Pp. 430-431.

(e) Under Chapter 33, as authoritatively construed by the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, a person who advises another that his legal rights have been infringed and refers him to a particular attorney or group of attorneys for assistance has committed a crime, as has the attorney who knowingly renders assistance under such circumstances; there thus inheres in the statute the gravest danger of smothering all discussion looking to the eventual institution of

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litigation on behalf of the rights of Negroes; and, as so construed, Chapter 33 violates the Fourteenth Amendment by unduly inhibiting protected freedoms of expression and association. Pp. 431-438.

(f) It is no answer to the constitutional claims asserted by petitioner to say, as did the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, that the purpose of this statute was merely to insure high professional standards, and not to curtail freedom of expression, for a State may not, under the guise of prohibiting professional misconduct, ignore constitutional rights. Pp. 438-439.

(g) However valid may be Virginia's interest in regulating the traditionally illegal practices of barratry, maintenance and champerty, that interest does not justify the prohibition of petitioner's activities disclosed by this record. Pp. 439-443.

(h) Resort to the courts to seek vindication of constitutional rights is a different matter from the oppressive, malicious, or avaricious use of the legal process for purely private gain. Pp. 443-444.

(i) Although petitioner has amply shown that its activities fall within the protection of the First Amendment, the State has failed to advance any substantial regulatory interest, in the form of substantive evils flowing from petitioner's activities, which can justify the broad prohibitions which. it has imposed. P. 444.

202 Va. 142, 116 S.E.2d 55, reversed.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case originated in companion suits by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Inc. (NAACP), and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (Defense Fund), brought in 1957 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The suits sought to restrain the enforcement of Chapters 31, 32, 33, 35 and 36 of the Virginia Acts of Assembly, 1956 Extra Session, on the ground that the

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statutes, as applied to the activities of the plaintiffs, violated the Fourteenth Amendment. A three-judge court convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2281, after hearing evidence and making factfindings, struck down Chapters 31, 32 and 35 but abstained from passing upon the validity of Chapters 33 and 36 pending an authoritative interpretation of these statutes by the Virginia courts.1 The complainants thereupon petitioned in the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond to declare Chapters 33 and 36 inapplicable to their activities, or, if applicable, unconstitutional. The record in the Circuit Court was that made before the three-judge court supplemented by additional evidence. The Circuit Court held the chapters to be both applicable and constitutional. The holding was sustained by the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals as to Chapter 33, but reversed as to Chapter 36, which was held unconstitutional under both state and federal law.2 Thereupon, the Defense Fund returned to the Federal District Court, where its case is presently pending, while the NAACP filed the instant petition. We granted certiorari. 365 U.S. 842.3 We heard argument in the 1961 Term,

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and ordered reargument this Term. 369 U.S. 833. Since no cross-petition was filed to review the Supreme Court of Appeals' disposition of Chapter 36, the only issue before us is the constitutionality of Chapter 33 as applied to the activities of the NAACP.

There is no substantial dispute as to the facts; the dispute centers about the constitutionality under the Fourteenth Amendment of Chapter 33, as construed and applied by the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to include NAACP's activities within the statute's ban against [83 S.Ct. 331] "the improper solicitation of any legal or professional business."

The NAACP was formed in 1909 and incorporated under New York law as a nonprofit membership corporation in 1911. It maintains its headquarters in New York, and presently has some 1,000 active unincorporated branches throughout the Nation. The corporation is licensed to do business in Virginia, and has 89 branches there. The Virginia branches are organized into the Virginia State Conference of NAACP Branches (the Conference), an unincorporated association, which, in 1957, had some 13,500 members. The activities of the Conference are financed jointly by the national organization and the local branches from contributions and membership dues. NAACP policy, binding upon local branches and conferences, is set by the annual national convention.

The basic aims and purposes of NAACP are to secure the elimination of all racial barriers which deprive Negro citizens of the privileges and burdens of equal citizenship rights in the United States. To this end, the Association engages in extensive educational and lobbying activities. It also devotes much of its funds and energies to an extensive

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program of assisting certain kinds of litigation on behalf of its declared purposes. For more than 10 years, the Virginia...

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