408 U.S. 104 (1972), 70-5106, Grayned v. City of Rockford

Docket Nº:No. 70-5106
Citation:408 U.S. 104, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 33 L.Ed.2d 222
Party Name:Grayned v. City of Rockford
Case Date:June 26, 1972
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 104

408 U.S. 104 (1972)

92 S.Ct. 2294, 33 L.Ed.2d 222



City of Rockford

No. 70-5106

United States Supreme Court

June 26, 1972

Argued January 19, 1972



1. Anti-picketing ordinance, virtually identical with one invalidated as violative of equal protection in Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, ante, p. 92, is likewise invalid. P. 107.

2. Anti-noise ordinance prohibiting a person while on grounds adjacent to a building in which a school is in session from willfully making a noise or diversion that disturbs or tends to disturb [92 S.Ct. 2297] the peace or good order of the school session is not unconstitutionally vague or overbroad. The ordinance is not vague, since, with fair warning, it prohibits only actual or imminent, and willful, interference with normal school activity, and is not a broad invitation to discriminatory enforcement. Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536; Coates v. Cincinnati, 402 U.S. 611, distinguished. The ordinance is not overbroad as unduly interfering with First Amendment rights since expressive activity is prohibited only if it "materially disrupts classwork." Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S. 503, 513. Pp. 107-121.

46 Ill.2d 492, 263 N.E.2d 866, affirmed in part and reversed in part.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a statement joining in the judgment and in Part I of the Court's opinion and concurring in the result as to Part IL of the opinion, post, p. 121. DOUGLAS, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part and joining in Part I of the Court's opinion, post, p. 121.

Page 105

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant Richard Grayned was convicted or his part in a demonstration in front of West Senior High School in Rockford, Illinois. Negro students at the school had first presented their grievances to school administrators. When the principal took no action on crucial complaints, a more public demonstration of protest was planned. On April 25, 1969, approximately 200 people -- students, their family members, and friends -- gathered next to the school grounds. Appellant, whose brother and twin sisters were attending the school, was part of this group. The demonstrators marched around on a sidewalk about 100 feet from the school building, which was set back from the street. Many carried signs which summarized the grievances: "Black cheerleaders to cheer too"; "Black history with black teachers"; "Equal rights, Negro counselors." Others, without placards, made the "power to the people" sign with their upraised and clenched fists.

In other respects, the evidence at appellant's trial was sharply contradictory. Government witnesses reported that the demonstrators repeatedly cheered, chanted, baited policemen, and made other noise that was audible in the school; that hundreds of students were distracted from their school activities and lined the classroom windows to watch the demonstration; that some demonstrators successfully yelled to their friends to leave the school building and join the demonstration; that uncontrolled latenesses after period changes in the school were far greater than usual, with late students admitting that they had been watching the demonstration; and that, in general, orderly school procedure was disrupted. Defense witnesses claimed that the demonstrators were at all times quiet and orderly; that they did not seek to violate the law, but only to "make

Page 106

a point"; that the only noise was made by policemen using loudspeakers; that almost no students were noticeable at the schoolhouse windows; and that orderly school procedure was not disrupted.

After warning the demonstrators, the police arrested 40 of them, including appellant.1 For participating in the demonstration, Grayned was tried and convicted [92 S.Ct. 2298] of violating two Rockford ordinances, hereinafter referred to as the "anti-picketing" ordinance and the "anti-noise" ordinance. A $25 fine was imposed for each violation. Since Grayned challenged the constitutionality of each ordinance, he appealed directly to the Supreme Court of Illinois. Ill.Sup.Ct.Rule 302. He claimed that the ordinances were invalid on their face, but did not urge that, as applied to him, the ordinances had punished constitutionally protected activity. The Supreme Court of Illinois held that both ordinances were constitutional on their face. 46 Ill.2d 492, 263 N.E.2d 866 (1970). We noted probable Jurisdiction, 404 U.S. 820 (1971). We conclude that the anti-picketing ordinance is unconstitutional, but affirm the court below with respect to the anti-noise ordinance.

Page 107


At the time of appellant's arrest and conviction, Rockford's anti-picketing ordinance provided that

A person commits disorderly conduct when he knowingly:

* * * *

(i) Pickets or demonstrates on a public way within 150 feet of any primary or secondary school building while the school is in session and one-half hour before the school is in session and one-half hour after the school session has been concluded, provided that this subsection does not prohibit the peaceful picketing of any school involved in a labor dispute. . . .

Code of Ordinances, c. 28, § 18.1(i). This ordinance is identical to the Chicago disorderly conduct ordinance we have today considered in Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, ante, p. 92. For the reasons given in Mosley, we agree with dissenting Justice Schaefer below, and hold that § 18.1(i) violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Appellant's conviction under this invalid ordinance must be reversed.2


The anti-noise ordinance reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

[N]o person, while on public or private grounds adjacent to any building in which a school or any

Page 108

class thereof is in session, shall willfully make or assist in the making of any noise or diversion which disturbs or tends to disturb the peace or good order of such school session or class thereof. . . .

Code of Ordinances, c. 28, § 19.2(a). Appellant claims that, on its face, this ordinance is both vague and overbroad, and therefore unconstitutional. We conclude, however, that the ordinance suffers from neither of these related infirmities.

A. Vagueness

It is a basic principle of due process that an enactment is void for vagueness if its prohibitions are not clearly defined. Vague laws offend several important values. First, because we assume that man is free to steer between lawful and unlawful conduct, we insist that laws give the person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity [92 S.Ct. 2299] to know what is prohibited, so that he may act accordingly. Vague laws may trap the innocent by not providing fair warning.3 Second, if arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement is to be prevented, laws must provide explicit standards for those who apply them.4 A vague law impermissibly delegates

Page 109

basic policy matters to policemen, judges, and juries for resolution on an ad hoc and subjective basis, with the attendant dangers of arbitrary and discriminatory application.5 Third, but related, where a vague statute "abut[s] upon sensitive areas of basic First Amendment freedoms,"6 it "operates to inhibit the exercise of [those] freedoms."7 Uncertain meanings inevitably lead citizens to "`steer far wider of the unlawful zone' . . . than if the boundaries of the forbidden areas were clearly marked."8

Although the question is close, we conclude that the anti-noise ordinance is not impermissibly vague. The court below rejected appellant's arguments

that proscribed conduct was not sufficiently specified and that police were given too broad a discretion in determining whether conduct was proscribed.

46 Ill.2d at 494, 263 N.E.2d at 867. Although it referred to other, similar statutes it had recently construed and upheld, the court

Page 110

below [92 S.Ct. 2300] did not elaborate on the meaning of the anti-noise ordinance.9 In this situation, as Mr. Justice Frankfurter put it, we must "extrapolate its allowable meaning."10 Here, we are "relegated . . . to the words of the ordinance itself,"11 to the interpretations the court below has given to analogous statutes,12 and, perhaps to some degree, to the interpretation of the statute given by those charged with enforcing it.13 "Extrapolation," of course, is a delicate task, for it is not within our power to construe and narrow state laws.14 With that warning, we find no unconstitutional vagueness in the anti-noise ordinance. Condemned to the use of words, we can never expect mathematical certainty from our language.15 The words of the Rockford ordinance are marked by "flexibility and reasonable breadth, rather than meticulous specificity," Esteban v. Central Missouri State College, 415 F.2d 1077, 1088 (CA8 1969) (Blackmun, J.), cert. denied, 398 U.S. 965 (1970), but we think it is clear what the ordinance as a whole prohibits. Designed, according to its preamble, "for the protection of Schools," the ordinance forbids deliberately

Page 111

noisy or diversionary16 activity that disrupts or is about to disrupt normal school activities. It forbids this willful activity at fixed times -- when school is in session -- and at a sufficiently fixed place -- "adjacent" to the school.17 Were we left with just the words of the ordinance, we might be troubled by the imprecision of the phrase "tends to disturb."18 However, in Chicago v. Meyer, 44 Ill.2d 1, 4, 23 N.E.2d 400, 402 (1969), and Chicago v. Gregory, 39 Ill.2d 47, 233 N.E.2d 422 (1968), reversed on other grounds, 394 U.S. 111 (1969), the Supreme Court of Illinois construed a Chicago ordinance prohibiting, inter alia, a "diversion tending to disturb the peace," and held that it permitted conviction only where...

To continue reading