388 U.S. 307 (1967), 249, Walker v. City of Birmingham

Docket Nº:No. 249
Citation:388 U.S. 307, 87 S.Ct. 1824, 18 L.Ed.2d 1210
Party Name:Walker v. City of Birmingham
Case Date:June 12, 1967
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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388 U.S. 307 (1967)

87 S.Ct. 1824, 18 L.Ed.2d 1210

Walker

v.

City of Birmingham

No. 249

United States Supreme Court

June 12, 1967

Argued March 13-14, 1967

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ALABAMA

Syllabus

On April 10, 1963, a temporary injunction was issued by an Alabama circuit court judge, pursuant to a bill of complaint filed by Birmingham officials, enjoining petitioners from participating in or encouraging mass street parades without a permit as required by city ordinance. The bill and accompanying affidavits stated that demonstrations, parades, and picketing had been engaged in by petitioners for the preceding seven days, and were expected to continue. Some of the petitioners, who had been served with copies of the writ the next morning, held a press conference and announced their intention to disobey the injunction. No permit to parade was then or thereafter requested, but parades were held on April 12, Good Friday, and April 14, Easter Sunday. At a contempt hearing, petitioners sought to attack the constitutionality of the injunction on the ground that it was vague, overbroad, and restrained free speech. They also sought to attack the parade ordinance on a similar ground and on the basis that it had been administered in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner. The circuit judge refused to consider these contentions, stating that there had been no motion to dissolve the injunction or any effort to comply with it by applying for a parade permit. The court held that the only issues were whether it had jurisdiction to issue the injunction and whether petitioners had knowingly violated it. Petitioners were found guilty, and the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed.

Held: Petitioners could not bypass orderly judicial review of the temporary injunction before disobeying it. Howat v. Kansas, 258 U.S. 181. Pp. 314-320.

(a) The state court that issued the injunction had, as a court of equity, jurisdiction over petitioners and over the subject matter of the controversy. P. 315.

(b) The injunction was consistent with the strong interest of the city government in regulating the use of its streets and other public places. Pp. 315-316.

(c) While the generality of language in the parade ordinance would raise substantial constitutional issues, petitioners did not apply to the courts for an authoritative construction which might

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have given the licensing authority granted in the ordinance a narrow and precise scope. As in Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569, and Poulos v. New Hampshire, 345 U.S. 395, it cannot be assumed that the ordinance is void on its face. Pp. 316-317.

(d) The breadth and vagueness of the injunction itself would be subject to constitutional question, but the way to raise that question was to apply to the state courts to have the injunction modified or dissolved. P. 317.

(e) Even if the parade ordinance on which the injunction was based had been previously administered in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner, it does not follow that the ordinance is void on its face. Petitioners did not apply for a parade permit after issuance of the injunction, the claimed arbitrary refusal of which would have been considered by the state court upon a motion to dissolve the injunction. Pp. 317-318.

(f) The rule of law which the Alabama courts relied on was firmly established by precedents which put petitioners on notice that they could not bypass orderly judicial review of the injunction before disobeying it. P. 319.

279 Ala. 53, 181 So.2d 493, affirmed.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

[87 S.Ct. 1826] MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

On Wednesday, April 10, 1963, officials of Birmingham, Alabama, filed a bill of complaint in a state circuit court asking for injunctive relief against 139 individuals and

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two organizations. The bill and accompanying affidavits stated that, during the preceding seven days:

[R]espondents [had] sponsored and/or participated in and/or conspired to commit and/or to encourage and/or to participate in certain movements, plans or projects commonly called "sit-in" demonstrations, "kneel-in" demonstrations, mass street parades, trespasses on private property after being warned to leave the premises by the owners of said property, congregating in mobs upon the public streets and other public places, unlawfully picketing private places of business in the City of Birmingham, Alabama; violation of numerous ordinances and statutes of the City of Birmingham and State of Alabama. . . .

It was alleged that this conduct was "calculated to provoke breaches of the peace," "threaten[ed] the safety, peace and tranquility of the City," and placed "an undue burden and strain upon the manpower of the Police Department."

The bill stated that these infractions of the law were expected to continue, and would "lead to further imminent danger to the lives, safety, peace, tranquility and general welfare of the people of the City of Birmingham," and that the "remedy by law [was] inadequate." The circuit judge granted a temporary injunction as prayed in the bill, enjoining the petitioners from, among other things, participating in or encouraging mass street parades or mass processions without a permit as required by a Birmingham ordinance.1

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Five of the eight petitioners were served with copies of the writ early the next morning. Several hours later, four of them held a press conference. There a statement was distributed declaring their intention to disobey the injunction because it was "raw tyranny under the guise of maintaining law and order."2 At this press conference, one of the petitioners stated:

That they had respect for the Federal Courts, or Federal Injunctions, but, in the past, the State Courts had favored local law enforcement, and if the police couldn't handle it, the mob would.

That night, a meeting took place at which one of the petitioners announced that, "[i]njunction or no injunction we are going to march tomorrow." The next afternoon, Good Friday, a large [87 S.Ct. 1827] crowd gathered in the vicinity of Sixteenth Street and Sixth Avenue North in Birmingham. A group of about 50 or 60 proceeded to parade along the sidewalk while a crowd of 1,000 to 1,500 onlookers stood by, "clapping, and hollering, and [w]hooping."

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Some of the crowd followed the marchers and spilled out into the street. At least three of the petitioners participated in this march.

Meetings sponsored by some of the petitioners were held that night and the following night, where calls for volunteers to "walk" and go to jail were made. On Easter Sunday, April 14, a crowd of between 1,500 and 2,000 people congregated in the mid-afternoon in the vicinity of Seventh Avenue and Eleventh Street North in Birmingham. One of the petitioners was seen organizing members of the crowd in formation. A group of about 50, headed by three other petitioners, started down the sidewalk two abreast. At least one other petitioner was among the marchers. Some 300 or 400 people from among the onlookers followed in a crowd that occupied the entire width of the street and overflowed onto the sidewalks. Violence occurred. Members of the crowd threw rocks that injured a newspaperman and damaged a police motorcycle.

The next day, the city officials who had requested the injunction applied to the state circuit court for an order to show cause why the petitioners should not be held in contempt for violating it. At the ensuing hearing, the petitioners sought to attack the constitutionality of the injunction on the ground that it was vague and overbroad, and restrained free speech. They also sought to attack the Birmingham parade ordinance upon similar grounds, and upon the further ground that the ordinance had previously been administered in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner.

The circuit judge refused to consider any of these contentions, pointing out that there had been neither a motion to dissolve the injunction nor an effort to comply with it by applying for a permit from the city commission before engaging in the Good Friday and Easter Sunday parades. Consequently, the court held that the

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only issues before it were whether it had jurisdiction to issue the temporary injunction, and whether thereafter the petitioners had knowingly violated it. Upon these issues, the court found against the petitioners and imposed upon each of them a sentence of five days in jail and a $50 fine, in accord with an Alabama statute.3 The Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed.4 That court, too, declined to [87 S.Ct. 1828] consider the petitioners' constitutional

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attacks upon the injunction and the underlying Birmingham parade ordinance:

It is to be remembered that petitioners are charged with violating a temporary injunction. We are not reviewing a denial of a motion to dissolve or discharge a temporary injunction. Petitioners did not file any motion to vacate the temporary injunction until after the Friday and Sunday parades. Instead, petitioners deliberately defied the order of the court and did engage in and incite others to engage in mass street parades without a permit.

* * * *

We hold that the circuit court had the duty and authority, in the first instance, to determine the validity of the ordinance, and, until the decision of the circuit court is reversed for error by orderly review, either by the circuit court or a higher court, the orders of the circuit court based on its decision are to be respected, and disobedience of them is contempt of its lawful authority, to be punished. Howat v. State of Kansas, 258 U.S. 181.

279 Ala. 53, 60, 62-63, 181 So.2d 493, 500, 502.

Howat v. Kansas, 258 U.S. 181, was decided by this Court almost 50 years...

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