390 U.S. 611 (1968), 699, Cameron v. Johnson

Docket Nº:No. 699
Citation:390 U.S. 611, 88 S.Ct. 1335, 20 L.Ed.2d 182
Party Name:Cameron v. Johnson
Case Date:April 22, 1968
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 611

390 U.S. 611 (1968)

88 S.Ct. 1335, 20 L.Ed.2d 182




No. 699

United States Supreme Court

April 22, 1968

Argued March 5-6, 1968




Appellants, to protest racial voting discrimination and encourage Negro registration, picketed the Forrest County, Mississippi, voting registration office in the county courthouse each weekday from January 23 to May 18, 1964, walking in a "march route" set off by the sheriff with barricades to facilitate access to the courthouse. On April 8, the legislature enacted the Mississippi Anti-Picketing Law, which, as amended, prohibits "picketing . . . in such a manner as to obstruct or unreasonably interfere with free ingress or egress to and from any county . . . courthouses. . . ." On April 9, the sheriff read the new law to the pickets, ordered them to disperse, and removed the barricades. When the pickets the next morning resumed marching along the now unmarked route, they were arrested for violating the Anti-Picketing statute. Other arrests were made that, afternoon, on April 11, and on May 18. On April 13, appellants brought this action seeking a judgment declaring that the Anti-Picketing Law is an invalid regulation of expression because of overbreadth and vagueness and an injunction against its enforcement in the prosecutions against them or otherwise, contending that the prosecutions were solely to discourage their freedom of expression. Following initial dismissal of the complaint and this Court's remand (381 U.S. 741) for reconsideration in the light of the intervening decision in Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479, an evidentiary hearing was held and the three-judge District Court again dismissed the complaint, holding that the statute was not void on its face and that appellants had failed to show sufficient irreparable injury to warrant injunctive relief.


1. The Mississippi Anti-Picketing Law is a valid regulatory statute; it is clear and precise and is not overly broad, since it does not prohibit picketing unless it obstructs or unreasonably interferes with ingress and egress to or from the courthouse. Pp. 615-417.

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2. This Court's independent examination of the record does not disclose that the officials acted in bad faith to harass appellants' exercise of the right to free expression; that the statute was adopted to halt appellants' picketing; or that the State had no expectation of securing valid convictions. This is therefore not a case where a federal equity court,

by withdrawing the determination of guilt from state courts could rightly afford [appellants] any protection which they could not secure by prompt trial and appeal pursued to this Court.

Douglas v. City of Jeannette, 319 U.S. 157, 164. Dombrowski, supra, distinguished. Pp. 617-622.

262 F.Supp. 873, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellants brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief in the District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. They sought a judgment declaring that the Mississippi Anti-Picketing Law1 is an overly

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broad and vague regulation of expression, and therefore void on its face. They also sought a permanent injunction restraining appellees -- the Governor and other Mississippi officials -- from enforcing the statute in pending or future criminal prosecutions or otherwise, alleging that the then pending prosecutions against them for violating the statute2 were part of a plan of selective enforcement engaged in by appellees with no expectation of securing convictions, but solely to discourage appellants from picketing to protest racial discrimination in voter registration and to encourage Negro citizens to attempt to register to vote.

A three-judge court initially considered the issues on the amended complaint and answers, and dismissed the complaint "in the exercise of its sound judicial discretion" and "in furtherance of the doctrine of abstention," having concluded "that such extraordinary relief is not due or suggested in this case. . . ." 244 F.Supp. 846, 849. We vacated the dismissal, 381 U.S. 741, and remanded for reconsideration in light of our intervening decision in Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479.3 On remand, the three-judge

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court4 conducted an evidentiary hearing and again dismissed, this time with prejudice. 262 F.Supp. 873. We noted probable jurisdiction. 389 U.S. 89. We affirm.


The Mississippi Anti-Picketing Law was enacted by the Mississippi Legislature and signed by the Governor on April 8, 1964, and became effective immediately. The Forrest County voting registration office is housed in the county courthouse in Hattiesburg. The courthouse is set back a distance from the street, and is reached by several paved walks surrounding grass plots and a monument. On January 22, 1964, civil rights organizations fostering increased voter registration of Negro citizens staged a large demonstration on the courthouse site. Thereafter, they maintained a picket line on the grounds every day except Sunday from January 23 until May 18, 1964. To facilitate access to the courthouse, the sheriff at the outset blocked off with barricades a small "march route" area within the grounds to the right of the main entrance to the courthouse, where the pickets, usually few in number, were allowed to picket until April 9. On April 9, the day following the enactment of the Anti-Picketing Law, the sheriff, accompanied by other county

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officials, read the new law to the pickets at the "march route" and directed them to disperse, which they did. The sheriff also removed the barricades marking the "march route." On the morning of April 10, the pickets, now increased to 35 or 40 persons, appeared at the courthouse and resumed picketing along the now unmarked "march route." The pickets were arrested and formally charged with violation of the Anti-Picketing statute. Others were arrested that afternoon. Seven more pickets were arrested and charged on the morning of April 11. The complaint in this action was filed April 13. Picketing nonetheless continued on the "march route" every day until May 18, but no further arrests were made until May 18, when nine pickets were arrested and charged. All picketing stopped thereafter.


The District Court's response on the remand to reconsider the case in light of Dombrowski was first to render a declaratory judgment, cf. Zwickler v. Koota, 389 U.S. 241,5 that the statute was not void on its face, rejecting appellants' contention that [88 S.Ct. 1338] it is so broad, vague, indefinite, and lacking in definitely ascertainable standards as to be unconstitutional on its face. We agree with the District Court.

Appellants advance a two-pronged argument. First, they argue that the statute forbids picketing in terms

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"so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application. . . ." Connally v. General Construction Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391.6 But the statute prohibits only "picketing . . . in such a manner as to obstruct or unreasonably interfere with free ingress or egress to and from any . . . county . . courthouses. . . ." The terms "obstruct" and "unreasonably interfere" plainly require no "guess[ing] at [their] meaning." Appellants focus on the word "unreasonably."7 It is a widely used and well understood word, and clearly so when juxtaposed with "obstruct" and "interfere." We conclude that the statute clearly and precisely delineates its reach in words of common understanding.8 It is "a precise and narrowly drawn regulatory statute evincing a legislative judgment that certain specific conduct be . . . proscribed." Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 236.

The second prong of appellants' argument is that the statute, even assuming that it is

lacking neither clarity nor precision, is void for "overbreadth," that is, that it offends the constitutional principle that

a governmental

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purpose to control or prevent activities constitutionally subject to state regulation may not be achieved by means which sweep unnecessarily broadly and thereby invade the area of protected freedoms.

Zwickler v. Koota, supra, at 250.9 The argument centers on the fact that the proscription of the statute embraces picketing employed as a vehicle for constitutionally protected protest. But "picketing and parading [are] subject to regulation even though intertwined with expression [88 S.Ct. 1339] and association," Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 559, 563,10 and this statute does not prohibit picketing so intertwined unless engaged in in a manner which obstructs or unreasonably interferes with ingress or egress to or from the courthouse. Prohibition of conduct which has this effect does not abridge constitutional liberty, "since such activity bears no necessary relationship to the freedom to . . . distribute information or opinion." Schneider v. State, 308 U.S. 147, 161. The statute is therefore

a valid law dealing with conduct subject to regulation so as to vindicate important interests of society, and . . . the fact that free speech is intermingled with such conduct does not bring with it constitutional protection.

Cox v. Louisiana, supra, at 564.


The District Court's further response on remand to reconsider the case in light of Dombrowski was to deny

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injunctive relief, after an evidentiary hearing, on findings that appellants failed to show sufficient irreparable injury to justify such relief. Appellants argue in this Court that the record discloses sufficient irreparable injury to entitle them to the injunction sought, even if the statute is constitutional on its face.

Dombrowski recognized, 380 U.S. at 483-485, the continuing validity of the maxim that a federal district court should be...

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