Brown v. State of Louisiana, No. 41

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtFORTAS; BRENNAN; WHITE; Mr. Justice BLACK, with whom Mr. Justice CLARK
Citation86 S.Ct. 719,15 L.Ed.2d 637,383 U.S. 131
Docket NumberNo. 41
Decision Date23 February 1966
PartiesHenry BROWN et al., Petitioners, v. STATE OF LOUISIANA

383 U.S. 131
86 S.Ct. 719
15 L.Ed.2d 637
Henry BROWN et al., Petitioners,

v.

STATE OF LOUISIANA.

No. 41.
Argued Dec. 6, 1965.
Decided Feb. 23, 1966.

[Syllabus from pages 131-132 intentionally omitted]

Page 132

Carl Rachlin, New York City, for petitioners.

Richard Kilbourne, Clinton, La., for respondent.

Page 133

Mr. Justice FORTAS announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Mr. Justice DOUGLAS join.

This is the fourth time in little more than four years that this Court has reviewed convictions by the Louisiana courts for alleged violations, in a civil rights context, of that State's breach of the peace statute. In the three preceding cases the convictions were reversed. Garner v. State of Louisiana, 368 U.S. 157, 82 S.Ct. 248, 7 L.Ed.2d 207, decided in December 1961, involved sit-ins by Negroes at lunch counters catering only to whites. Taylor v. State of Louisiana, 370 U.S. 154, 82 S.Ct. 1188, 8 L.Ed.2d 395, decided in June 1962, concerned a sit-in by Negroes in a waiting room at a but depot, reserved 'for whites only.' Cox v. State of Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536, 85 S.Ct. 453, 13 L.Ed.2d 471, decided in January 1965, involved the leader of some 2,000 Negroes who demonstrated in the vicinity of a courthouse and jail to protest the arrest of fellow demonstrators. In each of these cases the demonstration was orderly. In each, the purpose of the participants was to protest the denial to Negroes of rights guaranteed them by state and federal constitutions and to petition their governments for redress of grievances. In none was there evidence that the participants planned or intended disorder. In none were there circumstances which might have led to a breach of the peace chargeable to the protesting participants.1

Page 134

In Garner the Court found the record utterly barren of evidence to support convictions under Title 14, Article 103(7) of the Louisiana Criminal Code, which then defined the crime of 'disturbing the peace' in specific detail. 2 The record contained no evidence of boisterous or disorderly actions or of 'passive conduct likely to cause a public disturbance.' 368 U.S., at 173 174, 82 S.Ct., at 257. In Taylor, which arose under the Louisiana statute as amended to read in its present form, see p. 138, infra, the Court in a per curiam opinion set aside the convictions despite evidence of 'restlessness' among the white onlookers. Finally, in Cox, the Court held that the fact would not permit application of Louisiana's breach of the peace statute, despite the large scale of the demonstrations and the fact that petitioner's speech occasioned 'grumbling' on the part of white onlookers. Petitioner and the demonstrators as a group, though 'well behaved,' were far from silent, 379 U.S., at 543, 546, 85 S.Ct., at 457, 459.3 As an 'addi-

Page 135

tional reason' why the conviction could not be sustained, the Court, citing Terminiello v. City of Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 69 S.Ct. 894, 93 L.Ed. 1131, and Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 83 S.Ct. 680, 9 L.Ed.2d 697, held that were the statute to be defined and applied as the Louisiana Supreme Court had done, it would be unconstitutional because the vagueness and breadth of the definition 'would allow persons to be punished merely for peacefully expressing unpopular views.' 379 U.S., at 551, 85 S.Ct., at 462. See Edwards v. South Carolina, supra, 372 U.S., at 237, 83 S.Ct., at 684.

Since the present case was decided under precisely the statute involved in Cox but before our decision in that case was announced, it might well be supposed that, without further ado, we would vacate and remand in light of Cox. But because the incident leading to the present convictions occurred in a public library and might be thought to raise materially different questions, we have heard argument and have considered the case in extenso.

The locus of the events was the Audubon Regional Library in the town of Clinton, Louisiana, Parish of East Feliciana. The front room of the building was used as a public library facility where patrons might obtain library services. It was a small room, containing two tables and one chair (apart from the branch assistant's desk and chairs), a stove, a card catalogue, and open book shelves. The room was referred to by the regional librarian, Mrs. Perkins, as 'the adult reading-room, the adult service-room.' The library permitted 'registered borrowers' to 'browse' among the books in the room or to borrow books. A 'registered borrower' was one who could produce an identification card showing that he was registered by the Audubon Regional Library. Other space in the building included the headquarters of the regional library.

The Audubon Regional Library is operated jointly by the Parishes of East Feliciana, West Feliciana, and St. Helena. It has three branches and two bookmobiles.

Page 136

The bookmobiles served 33 schools, both white and Negro, as well as 'individuals.' One of the bookmobiles was red, the other blue. The red bookmobile served only white persons. The blue bookmobile served only Negroes. It is a permissible inference that no Negroes used the branch libraries.4

The registration cards issued to Negroes were stamped with the word 'Negro.' A Negro in possession of such a card was entitled to borrow books, but only from the blue bookmobile. A white person could not receive service from the blue bookmobile. He would have to wait until the red bookmobile came around, or would have to go to a branch library.

This tidy plan was challenged on Saturday, March 7, 1964, at about 11:30 a.m. Five young Negro males, all residents of East or West Feliciana Parishes, went into the adult reading or service room of the Audubon Regional Library at Clinton. The branch assistant, Mrs. Katie Reeves, was alone in the room. She met the men 'between the tables' and asked if she 'could help.' Petitioner Brown requested a book, 'The Story of the Negro' by Arna Bontemps. Mrs. Reeves checked the card catalogue, ascertained that the Branch did not have the book, so advised Mr. Brown, and told him that she would request the book from the State Library, that he would be notified upon its receipt and that 'he could either pick it up or it would be mailed to him.' She told him that 'his point of service was a bookmobile or it could be mailed to him.' Mrs. Reeves testified that she expected that the men would then leave; they did not, and she asked them to leave. They did not. Petitioner Brown sat down and the others stood near him. They said nothing; there was no noise or boisterous talking.

Page 137

Mrs. Reeves called Mrs. Perkins, the regional librarian, who was in another room. Mrs. Perkins asked the men to leave. They remained.

Neither Mrs. Reeves nor Mrs. Perkins had called the sheriff, but in '10 to 15 minutes' from the time of the arrival of the men at the library, the sheriff and deputies arrived. The sheriff asked the Negroes to leave. They said they would not. The sheriff then arrested them. The sheriff had been notified that morning that members of the Congress of Racial Equality 'were going to sit-in' at the library. Ordinarily, the sheriff testified, CORE tells him when they are going to demonstrate or picket. The sheriff was standing at his 'place of business' when he saw 'these 5 colored males coming down the street.' He saw them enter the library. He called the jail to notify his deputies, and he reached the library immediately after the deputies got there. When the sheriff arrived, there was no noise, no disturbance. He testified that he arrested them 'for not leaving a public building when asked to do so by an officer.'

The library obtained the requested book and mailed it to Mr. Brown on March 28, 1964. An accompanying card said, 'You may return the book either by mail or to the Blue Bookmobile.' The reference to the color of the vehicle was obviously not designed to facilitate identification of the library vehicle. The blue bookmobile is for Negroes and for Negroes only.

In the course of argument before this Court, counsel for both the State and petitioners stated that the Clinton Branch was closed after the incident of March 7. Counsel for the State also advised the court that the use of cards stamped 'Negro' continues to be the practice of the regional library.

On March 25, 1964, Mr. Brown and his four companions were tried and found guilty. Brown was sentenced to pay $150 and costs, and in default thereof to spend

Page 138

90 days in the parish jail. His companions were sentenced to $35 and costs, or 15 days in jail. The charge was that they had congregated together in the public library of Clinton, Louisiana, 'with the intent to provoke a breach of the peace and under circumstances such that a breach of the peace might be occasioned thereby' and had failed and refused 'to leave said premises when ordered to do so' by the librarian and by the sheriff.

The Louisiana breach of peace statute under which they were accused reads as follows: 'Whoever with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, or under circumstances such that a breach of the peace may be occasioned thereby: (1) crowds or congregates with others * * * in * * * a * * * public place or building * * * and who fails or refuses to disperse and move on, or disperse or move on, when ordered so to do by any law enforcement officer * * * or any other authorized person * * * shall be guilty of disturbing the peace.'5

Under Louisiana law, these convictions were not appealable. See Garner v. Louisiana, supra, 368 U.S. at 161—162, 82 S.Ct. at 250—251, 7 L.Ed.2d 207. Petitioners sought discretionary review by the Louisiana Supreme Court, which denied their application, finding no error. This Court granted certiorari, 381 U.S. 901, 85 S.Ct. 1445, 14 L.Ed.2d 284, and we reverse.

We may briefly dispose of certain threshold problems. Petitioners cannot constitutionally be convicted merely because they did not...

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329 practice notes
  • Leonard v. Robinson, No. 05-1728.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • February 2, 2007
    ...2286, 33 L.Ed.2d 212 (1972) (noting "an `equality of status in the field of ideas'"). See also, e.g., Brown 477 F.3d 361 v. Louisiana, 383 U.S. 131, 150, 86 S.Ct. 719, 15 L.Ed.2d 637 (1966) (reversing a breach of the peace conviction for staging a protest at a segregated library); Shuttlesw......
  • Fowler v. Board of Educ. of Lincoln County, Ky., Nos. 85-5815
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • July 21, 1987
    ...First Amendment); Tinker, 393 U.S. at 505, 89 S.Ct. at 736 (wearing black armband was conduct akin to pure speech); Brown v. Louisiana, 383 U.S. 131, 141-42, 86 S.Ct. 719, 724, 15 L.Ed.2d 637 (1966) (sit-in by black students in "whites only" library was symbolic speech); West Virginia State......
  • Valenzuela v. Aquino, No. D-0740
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • May 5, 1993
    ...Union Local 509 v. Logan Valley Plaza, Inc., 391 U.S. 308, 313-14, 88 S.Ct. 1601, 1605-06, 20 L.Ed.2d 603 (1968); Brown v. Louisiana, 383 U.S. 131, 141-42, 86 S.Ct. 719, 723-24, 15 L.Ed.2d 637 (1966); Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359, 369-70, 51 S.Ct. 532, 535-36, 75 L.Ed. 1117 (1931).......
  • United States v. Spock, No. 7205-7208.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • July 11, 1969
    ...now, apparently, the government as well, that this was token activity and protected political expression. See Brown v. Louisiana, 1966, 383 U.S. 131, 141-142, 86 S.Ct. 719, 15 L.Ed.2d 637; but cf. Adderley v. Florida, 1966, 385 U.S. 39, 87 S.Ct. 242, 17 L.Ed.2d 149; Cox v. Louisiana, 1965, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
326 cases
  • Leonard v. Robinson, No. 05-1728.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • February 2, 2007
    ...2286, 33 L.Ed.2d 212 (1972) (noting "an `equality of status in the field of ideas'"). See also, e.g., Brown 477 F.3d 361 v. Louisiana, 383 U.S. 131, 150, 86 S.Ct. 719, 15 L.Ed.2d 637 (1966) (reversing a breach of the peace conviction for staging a protest at a segregated library); Shuttlesw......
  • Fowler v. Board of Educ. of Lincoln County, Ky., Nos. 85-5815
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • July 21, 1987
    ...First Amendment); Tinker, 393 U.S. at 505, 89 S.Ct. at 736 (wearing black armband was conduct akin to pure speech); Brown v. Louisiana, 383 U.S. 131, 141-42, 86 S.Ct. 719, 724, 15 L.Ed.2d 637 (1966) (sit-in by black students in "whites only" library was symbolic speech); West Virginia State......
  • Valenzuela v. Aquino, No. D-0740
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • May 5, 1993
    ...Union Local 509 v. Logan Valley Plaza, Inc., 391 U.S. 308, 313-14, 88 S.Ct. 1601, 1605-06, 20 L.Ed.2d 603 (1968); Brown v. Louisiana, 383 U.S. 131, 141-42, 86 S.Ct. 719, 723-24, 15 L.Ed.2d 637 (1966); Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359, 369-70, 51 S.Ct. 532, 535-36, 75 L.Ed. 1117 (1931).......
  • United States v. Spock, No. 7205-7208.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • July 11, 1969
    ...now, apparently, the government as well, that this was token activity and protected political expression. See Brown v. Louisiana, 1966, 383 U.S. 131, 141-142, 86 S.Ct. 719, 15 L.Ed.2d 637; but cf. Adderley v. Florida, 1966, 385 U.S. 39, 87 S.Ct. 242, 17 L.Ed.2d 149; Cox v. Louisiana, 1965, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Civil Liberties
    • United States
    • ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, The Nbr. 371-1, May 1967
    • May 1, 1967
    ...It is not relevant to our purpose todiscuss Justice Black’s position.27 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, I, iii.28 Brown v. Louisiana, 383 U.S. 131, 167(1966).29 Brown v. Board of Education, 347 45studies; for the constitutional questionwas not whether racial segregation inthe schools was in ......
  • The Supreme Court of the United States, 1965-1966
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 19-4, December 1966
    • December 1, 1966
    ...them and they were subsequently convicted for violating the Louisiana 717 breach of peace statute. In Brown v. State of Louisiana (383 U.S. 131; 86 719) and with an opinion by Justice Fortas (vote: 5-4, Black, Clark, Harlan, andStewart dissenting) the Court reversed the conviction. &dquo;A ......

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