Cameron v. Johnson, No. 699

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRENNAN
Citation390 U.S. 611,88 S.Ct. 1335,20 L.Ed.2d 182
Docket NumberNo. 699
Decision Date22 April 1968
PartiesJohn Earl CAMERON et al., Appellants, v. Paul JOHNSON, etc., et al

390 U.S. 611
88 S.Ct. 1335
20 L.Ed.2d 182
John Earl CAMERON et al., Appellants,

v.

Paul JOHNSON, etc., et al.

No. 699.
Argued March 5 and 6, 1968.
Decided April 22, 1968.
Rehearing Denied June 3, 1968.

See 391 U.S. 971, 88 S.Ct. 2029.

Page 612

Benjamin E. Smith, New Orleans, La., and Arthur Kinoy, New York City, for appellants.

Will S. Wells, Jackson, Miss., for appellees.

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

Page 613

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 protect 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, 85 S.Ct. 1751, 14 L.Ed.2d 715, and remanded for reconsideration in light of our intervening decision in Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479, 85 S.Ct. 1116, 14 L.Ed.2d 22.3 On remand the three-

Page 614

-judge court4 conducted an evidentiary hearing and again dismissed, this time with prejudice. 262 F.Supp. 873. We noted probable jurisdiction. 389 U.S. 809, 88 S.Ct. 127, 19 L.Ed.2d 63. We affirm.

I.

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

Page 615

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 unmarket '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.

II.

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, 88 S.Ct. 391, 19 L.Ed.2d 444,5 that the statute was not void on its face, rejecting appellants' contention that 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, 46 S.Ct. 126, 127, 70 L.Ed. 322.6 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, 83 S.Ct. 680, 684, 9 L.Ed.2d 697.

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 principal that 'a govern-

Page 617

mental 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, 389 U.S. at 250, 88 S.Ct. at 396.9 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 and association,' Cox v. State of Louisiana, 379 U.S. 559, 563, 85 S.Ct. 476, 480, 13 L.Ed.2d 487,10 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, 60 S.Ct. 146, 150, 84 L.Ed. 155. 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. State of Louisiana, supra, 379 U.S. at 564, 85 S.Ct. at 481.

III.

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

Page 618

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, 85 S.Ct., at 1119—1120, the continuing validity of the maxim that a federal district court should be slow to act 'where its powers are invoked to interfere by injunction with threatened criminal prosecutions in a state court.' Douglas v. City of Jeannette, 319 U.S. 157, 162, 63 S.Ct. 877, 880, 87 L.Ed. 1324; see Zwickler v. Koota, supra, 389 U.S., at 253, 88 S.Ct., at 398. Federal interference with a State's good-faith administration of its criminal laws 'is peculiarly inconsistent with our federal framework' and a showing of 'special circumstances' beyond the injury incidental to every proceeding brought lawfully and in good faith is requisite to a finding of irreparable injury sufficient to justify the extraordinary remedy of an injunction. 380 U.S., at 484, 85 S.Ct., at 1119, 1120. We found such 'special circumstances' in Dombrowski. The prosecutions there begun and threatened were not, as here, for violation of a statute narrowly regulating conduct which is intertwined with expression, but for alleged violations of various sections of excessively broad Louisiana statutes regulating expression itself—the Louisiana Subversive Activities and Communist Control Law and the Communist Propaganda Control Law. These statutes were challenged as overly broad and vague regulations of expression. Despite state court actions quashing arrest warrants and suppressing evidence purportedly seized in enforcing them, Louisiana officials continued to threaten prosecutions of Dombrowski and his co-appellants under them. In that context, we held that a case of 'the threat of irreparable injury required by traditional doctrines of equity' was made

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out. 380 U.S., at 490, 85 S.Ct., at 1123. We held further that the sections of the Subversive Activities and Communist Control Law (for alleged violations of which indictments had been obtained while the case was pending in the federal court) were patently unconstitutional on their face, and remanded with direction to frame an appropriate injunction restraining prosecution of the indictments.

In short, we viewed Dombrowski to be a case presenting a situation of the 'impropriety of (state officials) invoking the statute in bad faith to impose continuing harassment in order to discourage appellants' activities * * *.' 380 U.S., at 490, 85 S.Ct., at 1123. In contrast, the District Court...

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  • Philadelphia News., Inc. v. Borough C., Etc., Swarthmore, Civ. A. No. 74-1569.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • August 13, 1974
    ...an action for a declaratory judgment, Steffel v. Thompson, supra, 94 S.Ct. 1209, 39 L.Ed.2d at 522-524, distinguishing Cameron v. Johnson, 390 U.S. 611, 88 S.Ct. 1335, 20 L.Ed.2d 182 (1968). Under these circumstances, then, we hold that PNI need not expose itself to prosecution under the or......
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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • April 4, 1975
    ...variety of other terms whose constitutionality the Supreme Court has upheld when challenged on vagueness grounds. See Cameron v. Johnson, 390 U.S. 611, 88 S.Ct. 1335, 20 L.Ed.2d 182 (1968) ("unreasonably interferes"); Boyce Motor Lines, Inc. v. United States, 342 U.S. 337, 72 S.Ct. 329, 96 ......
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    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
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    ...embassies "when the police reasonably believe that a threat to the security or peace of the embassy is present"); Cameron v. Johnson, 390 U.S. 611, 616 (1968)(rejecting vagueness challenge to ordinance prohibiting protests that "unreasonably interfere" with access to public buildings); Kova......
  • News Printing Co. v. Borough of Totowa
    • United States
    • Superior Court of New Jersey
    • January 3, 1986
    ...the use of the term "unreasonably" renders the clause unduly vague and susceptible to arbitrary application. In Cameron v. Johnson (1968) 390 U.S. 611, 615-616, 88 S.Ct. 1335, 1338, 20 L.Ed.2d 182, however, the United States Supreme Court rejected an almost identical vagueness attack on a M......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
465 cases
  • Philadelphia News., Inc. v. Borough C., Etc., Swarthmore, Civ. A. No. 74-1569.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • August 13, 1974
    ...an action for a declaratory judgment, Steffel v. Thompson, supra, 94 S.Ct. 1209, 39 L.Ed.2d at 522-524, distinguishing Cameron v. Johnson, 390 U.S. 611, 88 S.Ct. 1335, 20 L.Ed.2d 182 (1968). Under these circumstances, then, we hold that PNI need not expose itself to prosecution under the or......
  • Zenith Radio Corp. v. Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co., Ltd., Civ. A. No. 74-2451
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • April 4, 1975
    ...variety of other terms whose constitutionality the Supreme Court has upheld when challenged on vagueness grounds. See Cameron v. Johnson, 390 U.S. 611, 88 S.Ct. 1335, 20 L.Ed.2d 182 (1968) ("unreasonably interferes"); Boyce Motor Lines, Inc. v. United States, 342 U.S. 337, 72 S.Ct. 329, 96 ......
  • ETP Rio Rancho Park, LLC v. Grisham, No. CIV 21-0092 JB/KK
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • February 8, 2021
    ...embassies "when the police reasonably believe that a threat to the security or peace of the embassy is present"); Cameron v. Johnson, 390 U.S. 611, 616 (1968)(rejecting vagueness challenge to ordinance prohibiting protests that "unreasonably interfere" with access to public buildings); Kova......
  • News Printing Co. v. Borough of Totowa
    • United States
    • Superior Court of New Jersey
    • January 3, 1986
    ...the use of the term "unreasonably" renders the clause unduly vague and susceptible to arbitrary application. In Cameron v. Johnson (1968) 390 U.S. 611, 615-616, 88 S.Ct. 1335, 1338, 20 L.Ed.2d 182, however, the United States Supreme Court rejected an almost identical vagueness attack on a M......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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