408 U.S. 169 (1972), 71-452, Healy v. James

Docket Nº:No. 71-452
Citation:408 U.S. 169, 92 S.Ct. 2338, 33 L.Ed.2d 266
Party Name:Healy v. James
Case Date:June 26, 1972
Court:United States Supreme Court

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408 U.S. 169 (1972)

92 S.Ct. 2338, 33 L.Ed.2d 266




No. 71-452

United States Supreme Court

June 26, 1972

Argued March 28, 1972




Petitioners, seeking to form a local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at a state-supported college, were denied recognition as a campus organization. Recognition would have entitled petitioners to use campus facilities for meetings and to use of the campus bulletin board and school newspaper. The college president denied recognition because he was not satisfied that petitioners' group was independent of the National SDS, which he concluded has a philosophy of disruption and violence in conflict with the college's declaration of student rights. Petitioners thereupon brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief. The District Court first ordered a further administrative hearing, after which the president reaffirmed his prior decision. Approving the president's judgment, the District Court held that petitioners had failed to show that they could function free from the National SDS and that the college's refusal to approve the group, which the court found "likely to cause violent acts of disruption," did not violate petitioners' associational rights. The Court of Appeals, purporting not to reach the First Amendment issues, affirmed on the ground that petitioners had failed to avail themselves of the due process accorded to them and to meet their burden of complying with the prevailing standards for recognition.


1. The courts erred in (1) discounting the cognizable First Amendment associational interest that petitioners had in furthering their personal beliefs and (2) assuming that the burden was on petitioners to show entitlement to recognition by the college, rather than on the college to justify its nonrecognition of the group, once petitioners had made application conformably to college requirements. Pp. 180-185.

2. Insofar as the denial of recognition to petitioners' group was based on an assumed relationship with the National SDS, or was a result of disagreement with the group's philosophy, or was a consequence of a fear of disruption, for which there was no support in the record, the college's decision violated the petitioners' First Amendment rights. A [92 S.Ct. 2341] proper basis for nonrecognition might have

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been afforded, however, by a showing that the group refused to comply with a rule requiring them to abide by reasonable campus regulations. Since the record is not clear whether the college ha such a rule, and, if so, whether petitioners intend to observe it, these issues remain to be resolved. Pp. 185-194.

45 F.2d 1122, reversed and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 195. DOUGLAS, J., filed a separate opinion, post, p. 196. REHNQUIST, J., filed a statement concurring in the result, post, p. 201.

POWELL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case, arising out of a denial by a state college of official recognition to a group of students who desired to form a local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), presents this Court with questions requiring the application of well established First Amendment principles. While the factual background of this

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particular case raises these constitutional issues in a manner not heretofore passed on by the Court, and only infrequently presented to lower federal courts, our decision today is governed by existing precedent.

As the case involves delicate issues concerning the academic community, we approach our task with special caution, recognizing the mutual interest of students, faculty members, and administrators in an environment free from disruptive interference with the educational process. We also are mindful of the equally significant interest in the widest latitude for free expression and debate consonant with the maintenance of order. Where these interests appear to compete the First Amendment, made binding on the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, strikes the required balance.


We mention briefly at the outset the setting in 1969-1970. A climate of unrest prevailed on many college campuses in this country. There had been widespread civil disobedience on some campuses, accompanied by the seizure of buildings, vandalism, and arson. Some colleges had been shut down altogether, while, at others, files were looted and manuscripts destroyed. SDS chapters on some of those campuses had been a catalytic force during this period.1 Although the causes of campus disruption were many and complex, one of the prime consequences of such activities was the denial of the lawful exercise of First Amendment rights to the majority of students by the few. Indeed, many of the most cherished characteristics long associated with institutions of higher learning appeared to be endangered. Fortunately,

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with the passage of time, a calmer atmosphere and greater maturity now pervade our campuses. Yet it was in this climate of earlier unrest that this case arose.

Petitioners are students attending Central Connecticut State College (CCSC), a state-supported institution of higher learning. In September, 1969, they undertook to organize what they then referred to as a "local chapter" of SDS. Pursuant to procedures established by the College, petitioners filed a request for official recognition as a campus organization with the Student Affairs Committee, a committee composed of four students, three faculty members, and the Dean of Student Affairs. The request specified three purposes for the proposed organization's existence. It would provide "a forum of discussion and self-education for students developing an analysis of American society"; it would serve as "an agency for integrating thought with action so as to bring about constructive [92 S.Ct. 2342] changes"; and it would endeavor to provide "a coordinating body for relating the problems of leftist students" with other interested groups on campus and in the community.2 The Committee, while satisfied that the statement of purposes was clear and unobjectionable on its face, exhibited concern over the relationship between the proposed local group and the National SDS organization. In response to inquiries, representatives of the proposed organization stated that they would not affiliate with any national organization and that their group would remain "completely independent."

In response to other questions asked by Committee members concerning SDS' reputation for campus disruption, the applicants made the following statements,

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which proved significant during the later stages of these proceedings:

Q. How would you respond to issues of violence as other S.D.S. chapters have?

A. Our action would have to be dependent upon each issue.

Q. Would you use any means possible?

A. No I can't say that; would not know until we know what the issues are.

Q. Could you envision the S.D.S. interrupting a class?

A. Impossible for me to say.

With this information before it, the Committee requested an additional filing by the applicants, including a formal statement regarding affiliations. The amended application filed in response stated flatly that "CCSC Students for a Democratic Society are not under the dictates of any National organization."3 At a second hearing before the Student Affairs Committee, the question of relationship with the National organization was raised again. One of the organizers explained that the National SDS was divided into several "factional groups," that the national-local relationship was a loose one, and that the local organization accepted only "certain ideas," but not all of the National organization's aims and philosophies.

By a vote of six to two, the Committee ultimately approved the application and recommended to the President

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of the College, Dr. James, that the organization be accorded official recognition. In approving the application, the majority indicated that its decision was premised on the belief that varying viewpoints should be represented on campus and that, since the Young Americans for Freedom, the Young Democrats, the Young Republicans, and the Liberal Party all enjoyed recognized status, a group should be available with which "left wing" students might identify. The majority also noted and relied on the organization's claim of independence. Finally, it admonished the organization that immediate suspension would be considered if the group's activities proved incompatible with the school's policies against interference with the privacy of other students or destruction of property. The two dissenting members based their reservation primarily on the lack of clarity regarding the organization's independence.

Several days later, the President rejected the Committee's recommendation and issued a statement indicating that petitioners' organization was not to be accorded the benefits of official campus recognition. His accompanying remarks, [92 S.Ct. 2343] which are set out in full in the margin,4 indicate several reasons for his action. He

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found that the organization's philosophy was antithetical to the school's policies,5 and that the group's independence was doubtful. He concluded that approval should

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not be granted to any group that "openly repudiates" the College's dedication to academic freedom.

Denial of official recognition posed serious problems for the organization's existence and growth. Its members were deprived of the opportunity to place announcements [92 S.Ct. 2344] regarding meetings, rallies, or other activities in the student newspaper; they were precluded from using...

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