381 U.S. 741 (1965), 587, Cameron v. Johnson

Docket Nº:No. 587
Citation:381 U.S. 741, 85 S.Ct. 1751, 14 L.Ed.2d 715
Party Name:Cameron v. Johnson
Case Date:June 07, 1965
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 741

381 U.S. 741 (1965)

85 S.Ct. 1751, 14 L.Ed.2d 715




No. 587

United States Supreme Court

June 7, 1965



Judgment vacated and cause remanded.

Reported below: 244 F.Supp. 846.

Per curiam opinion.


Appellants brought this action, inter alia, under § 1979 of the Revised Statutes, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1958 ed.), to enjoin enforcement of the Mississippi Anti-Picketing statute, * on the grounds that it was an unconstitutionally broad [85 S.Ct. 1752] regulation of speech, and that it was being applied for the purpose of discouraging appellants' civil rights activities.

The motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is granted. The judgment, 244 F.Supp. 846, is vacated, and the cause remanded for reconsideration in light of Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479. On remand, the District Court should first consider whether 28 U.S.C. § 2283 (1958 ed.) bars a federal injunction in this case, see 380 U.S. at 484, n. 2. If § 2283 is not a bar, the court should then determine

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whether relief is proper in light of the criteria set forth in Dombrowski.


I dissent from the reversal of this judgment and from the manner in which it is done. A cryptic, uninformative per curiam order is no way, I think, for this Court to decide a case involving, as this one does, a State's power to make it an offense for people to obstruct public streets and highways and to block ingress and egress to and from its public buildings and properties. The case also involves the question whether, having passed such a law, valid on its face, the State can prosecute offenders in its own courts, or whether United States courts have power to enjoin all state prosecutions merely because of a charge that the law is unconstitutional on its face, without first determining the constitutionality of the statute.

Every person who has the slightest information about what is going on in this country can understand the importance of these issues. The summary disposition the Court makes of this case fails properly to enlighten state or federal courts or the people who deserve to know what are the rights of the people, the rights of affected groups, the rights of the Federal Government, and the rights of the States in this field of activities which encompasses some of the most burning, pressing and important issues of our time. There are many earnest, honest, good people in this Nation who are entitled to know exactly how far they have a constitutional right to go in using the public streets to advocate causes they consider just. State officials are also entitled to the same information. The Court has already waited entirely too long, in my judgment, to perform its duty of clarifying these constitutional

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issues.1 These issues are of such great importance that I am of the opinion that, before this Court relegates the States to the position of mere onlookers in struggles over their streets and the accesses to their public buildings, this Court should at least write an opinion making clear to the States and interested people the boundaries between what they can do in this field and what they cannot. Today's esoteric and more or less mysterious per curiam order gives no such information.

This action was brought by and on behalf of picketers and demonstrators in Mississippi, some of whom have charges now pending against them which were brought in the Mississippi state courts2 for violating a Mississippi statute which [85 S.Ct. 1753] provided:

It shall be unlawful for any person, singly or in concert with others, to engage in picketing or mass demonstrations in such a manner as to obstruct or interfere with free ingress or egress to and from any public premises, State property, county or municipal courthouses, city halls, office buildings, jails, or other

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public buildings or property owned by the State of Mississippi or any county or municipal government located therein or with the transaction of public business or administration of justice therein or thereon conducted or so as to obstruct or interfere with free use of public streets, sidewalks or other public ways adjacent or contiguous thereto.3

Their complaint in the United States District Court asked that the Governor of Mississippi and other state officials be enjoined from enforcing the statute against them and others. The complaint alleged that the law was unconstitutional on its face and as applied to the plaintiffs and persons similarly situated because the language of the statute was so vague and ambiguous that a person of ordinary intelligence could not understand it, and so broad and sweeping in its terms that it could be used, had been used, and would be used, to harass and persecute the plaintiffs and others not merely for blocking streets and doors and passageways, but also for simply picketing and demonstrating, activities which this statute does not prohibit.4 They alleged in addition that the Mississippi Legislature actually passed the law to discourage picketers and demonstrators from protesting against state denial of voting rights to Negroes. The District Court majority found as a fact on the evidence stipulated by the parties that neither the plaintiffs nor anyone else had been interfered with for simply picketing and demonstrating,5 and also found that,

on the occasions in suit when some of the plaintiffs were arrested and charged with violating this Act,

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that such persons deliberately and intentionally blocked the sidewalk and one of the entrances to the county courthouse in Forrest County, Mississippi, by walking so close together as to make use of such entrance and exit to and from said county courthouse by the officials and business visitors impossible.

The District Court held that no serious claim could be made that the statute was unconstitutionally vague or too broad on its face, and therefore refused to issue an injunction forbidding the prosecution of offenses under that law. And, having found from the evidence that there had been no harassment of the plaintiffs, except as harassment could be said to exist in the ordinary enforcement of any valid law, the court refused to enjoin the state officials from enforcing the law against [85 S.Ct. 1754] them and others, and dismissed the complaint.6

If, as I believe, the Mississippi statute is not unconstitutional on its face, then the District Court, in dismissing the complaint and leaving the trials to the state courts, acted in accordance with an unbroken line of this Court's cases going back to the early days of this country. See, e.g., Douglas v. City of Jeannette, 319 U.S. 157; Watson v. Buck, 313 U.S. 387; Beal v. Missouri Pac. R. Co., 312 U.S. 45; Spielman Motor Sales Co. v. Dodge, 295 U.S. 89; Fenner v. Boykin, 271 U.S. 240. It is true that Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, held that state officials could be enjoined from harassing people by starting multitudinous criminal prosecutions against them where severe

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cumulative punishments might accrue before the constitutionality of the state law involved could be tested. In the absence of some such extraordinary situation, however, this Court has uniformly held that federal courts should refrain from interfering with enforcement of state criminal laws. Thus, in Douglas v. City of Jeannette, supra, this Court found no reason to permit a federal court to enjoin a state criminal proceeding even though the statute involved was the same day declared unconstitutional in a similar application. Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105.7

The Court, in its cryptic per curiam order, directs that "On remand, the District Court should first consider whether 28 U.S.C. § 2283 (1958 ed.) bars a federal injunction in this case. . . ." But the District Court has already considered § 2283,8 and, at the very beginning of its opinion, stated that § 2283

. . . is not jurisdictional, but expresses very clearly and definitely the policy and thinking of Congress. Such a statute has been on the books for many years, and still stands in the above quoted form. Certainly

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there are times and occasions which are exceptional, when it is proper for the Court to enjoin the prosecution of a criminal case, but the facts of this case and of this record do not approach such a situation.

244 F.Supp. at 851. The appellants argue that 28 U.S.C. § 2283, which bars injunctions against actions [85 S.Ct. 1755] already instituted in state courts, is not applicable here, because the pending prosecutions were removed and the remand orders have been stayed and because, in this class action, "[t]he basic relief sought in the complaint is the enjoining of the prospective enforcement of the state statute. . . ." The question of applicability of § 2283 is here on appeal, and, if the Court is uncertain about that statute's application here, it has the duty to decide the question now, and not remand to the lower court which has already decided it.

The Court's exceedingly brief order directs the District Court, on remand, if § 2283 does not bar this action, to "determine whether relief is proper in light of the criteria set forth in Dombrowski" v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479. Apparently the Court means to indicate that this recent decision created a new rule authorizing federal courts to enjoin state officers from enforcing state laws even...

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