Cox v. State of Louisiana, 49

Decision Date18 January 1965
Docket NumberNo. 49,49
Citation13 L.Ed.2d 487,379 U.S. 559,85 S.Ct. 476
PartiesB. Elton COX, Appellant, v. STATE OF LOUISIANA
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 380 U.S. 926, 85 S.Ct. 879.

Nils Douglas, New Orleans, La., for appellant.

Ralph L. Roy, Baton Rouge, La., for appellee.

Mr. Justice GOLDBERG delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant was convicted of violating a Louisiana statute which provides:

'Whoever, with the intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding the administration of justice, or with the intent of influencing any judge, juror, witness, or court officer, in the discharge of his duty pickets or parades in or near a building housing a court of the State of Louisiana * * * shall be fined not more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.' LSA—Rev.Stat. § 14:401 (Cum.Supp.1962).

This charge was based upon the same set of facts as the 'disturbing the peace' and 'obstructing a public passage' charges involved and set forth in 85 S.Ct. 453, ante, and was tried along with those offenses. Appellant was convicted on this charge also and was sentenced to the maximum penalty under the statute of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine, which penalty was cumulative with those in No. 24. These convictions were affirmed by the Louisiana Supreme Court, 245 La. 303, 158 So.2d 172. Appellant appealed to this Court contending that the statute was unconstitutional on its face and as applied to him. We noted probable jurisdiction, 377 U.S. 921, 84 S.Ct. 1222, 12 L.Ed.2d 214.


We shall first consider appellant's contention that this statute must be declared invalid on its face as an unjustified restriction upon freedoms guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

This statute was passed by Louisiana in 1950 and was modeled after a bill pertaining to the federal judiciary, which Congress enacted later in 1950, 64 Stat. 1018, 18 U.S.C. § 1507 (1958 ed.). Since that time, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have passed similar statutes. Mass.Ann.Laws, c. 268, § 13A; Purdon's Pa.Stat.Ann., Tit. 18, § 4327. The federal statute resulted from the picketing of federal courthouses by partisans of the defendants during trials involving leaders of the Communist Party. This picketing prompted an adverse reaction from both the bar and the general public. A number of groups urged legislation to prohibit it. At a special meeting held in March 1949, the Judicial Conference of the United States passed the following resolution: 'Resolved, That we condemn the practice of picketing the courts, and believe that effective means should be taken to prevent it.' Report of the Judicial Conference of the United States, 203 (1949). A Special Committee on Proposed Legislation to Prohibit Picketing of the Courts was appointed to make recommendations to the Conference on this subject. Ibid. In its Report to the Judicial Conference, dated September 23, 1949, at p. 3, the Special Committee stated: 'The sentiment of bar associations and individual lawyers has been and is practically unanimous in favor of legislation to prohibit picketing of courts.' Upon the recommendation of this Special Committee, the Judicial Conference urged the prompt enactment of the then-pending bill. Report of the Judicial Conference of the United States, 17—18 (1949). Similar recommendations were made by the American Bar Association, numerous state and local bar associations, and individual lawyers and judges. See Joint Hearings before the Subcommittees of the Committees on the Judiciary on S. 1681 and H.R. 3766, 81st Cong., 1st Sess.; H.R.Rep.No.1281, 81st Cong., 1st Sess.; S.Rep.No.732, 81st Cong., 1st Sess.; Bills Con- demning Picketing of Courts Before Congress, 33 J.Am.Jud.Soc. 53 (1949).

This statute, unlike the two previously considered, is a precise, narrowly drawn regulatory statute which proscribes certain specific behavior. Cf. Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 236, 83 S.Ct. 680, 683, 9 L.Ed.2d 697. It prohibits a particular type of conduct, namely, picketing and parading, in a few specified locations, in or near courthouses.

There can be no question that a State has a legitimate interest in protecting its judicial system from the pressures which picketing near a courthouse might create. Since we are committed to a government of laws and not of men, it is of the utmost importance that the administration of justice be absolutely fair and orderly. This Court has recognized that the unhindered and untrammeled functioning of our courts is part of the very foundation of our constitutional democracy. See Wood v. Georgia, 370 U.S. 375, 383, 82 S.Ct. 1364, 1369, 8 L.Ed.2d 569. The constitutional safeguards relating to the integrity of the criminal process attend every stage of a criminal proceeding, starting with arrest and culminating with a trial 'in a courtroom presided over by a judge.' Rideau v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723, 727, 83 S.Ct. 1417, 1419, 10 L.Ed.2d 663. There can be no doubt that they embrace the fundamental conception of a fair trial, and that they exclude influence or domination by either a hostile or friendly mob. There is no room at any stage of judicial proceedings for such intervention; mob law is the very antithesis of due process. See Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309, 347, 35 S.Ct. 582, 595, 59 L.Ed. 969. (Holmes, J., dissenting). A State may adopt safeguards necessary and appropriate to assure that the administration of justice at all stages is free from outside control and influence. A narrowly drawn statute such as the one under review is obviously a safeguard both necessary and appropriate to vindicate the State's interest in assuring justice under law.

Nor does such a statute infringe upon the constitutionally protected rights of free speech and free assembly. The conduct which is the subject of this statute—picketing and parading—is subject to regulation even though intertwined with expression and association. The examples are many of the application by this Court of the principle that certain forms of conduct mixed with speech may be regulated or prohibited. The most classic of these was pointed out long ago by Mr. Justice Holmes: 'The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.' Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 52, 39 S.Ct. 247, 249, 63 L.Ed. 470. A man may be punished for encouraging the commission of a crime, Fox v. Washington, 236 U.S. 273, 35 S.Ct. 383, 59 L.Ed. 573, or for uttering 'fighting words,' Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 62 S.Ct. 766, 86 L.Ed. 1031. This principle has been applied to picketing and parading in labor disputes. See Hughes v. Superior Court, 339 U.S. 460, 70 S.Ct. 718, 94 L.Ed. 985; Giboney v. Empire Storage & Ice Co., 336 U.S. 490, 69 S.Ct. 684, 93 L.Ed. 834; Building Service Employees, etc. v. Gazzam, 339 U.S. 532, 70 S.Ct. 784, 94 L.Ed. 1045. But cf. Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, 60 S.Ct. 736, 84 L.Ed. 1093. These authorities make it clear, as the Court said in Giboney, that 'it has never been deemed an abridgment of freedom of speech or press to make a course of conduct illegal merely because the conduct was in part initiated, evidenced, or carried out by means of language, either spoken, written, or printed.' Giboney v. Empire Storage & Ice Co., supra, 336 U.S. at 502, 69 S.Ct. at 691.

Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252, 62 S.Ct. 190, 86 L.Ed. 192, and Pennekamp v. Florida, 328 U.S. 331, 66 S.Ct. 1029, 90 L.Ed. 1295, do not hold to the contrary. Both these cases dealt with the power of a judge to sentence for contempt persons who published or caused to be published writings commenting on judicial proceedings. They involved newspaper editorials, an editorial cartoon, and a telegram sent by a labor leader to the Secretary of Labor. Here we deal not with the contempt power—- a power which is 'based on a common law concept of the most general and undefined nature.' Bridges v. California, supra, 314 U.S. at 260, 62 S.Ct. at 192. Rather, we are reviewing a statute narrowly drawn to punish specific conduct that infringes a substantial state interest in protecting the judicial process. See Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 307—308, 60 S.Ct. 900, 904 905, 84 L.Ed. 1213; Giboney v. Empire Storage & Ice Co., supra. We are not concerned here with such a pure form of expression as newspaper comment or a telegram by a citizen to a public official. We deal in this case not with free speech alone, but with expression mixed with particular conduct. In Giboney, this Court expressly recognized this distinction when it said, 'In holding this, we are mindful of the essential importance to our society of a vigilant protection of freedom of speech and press. Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252, 263, 62 S.Ct. 190, 194, 86 L.Ed. 192, 159 A.L.R. 1346. States cannot consistently with our Constitution abridge those freedoms to obviate slight inconveniences or annoyances. Schneider v. State, 308 U.S. 147, 162, 60 S.Ct. 146, 151, 84 L.Ed. 155. But placards used as an essential and inseparable part of a grave offense against an important public law cannot immunize that unlawful conduct from state control.' 336 U.S., at 501—502, 69 S.ct. at 690.

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


We now deal with the Louisiana statute as applied to the conduct in this case. The group of 2,000, led by appellant, paraded and demonstrated before the courthouse. Judges and court officers were in attendance to discharge their respective functions. It is undisputed that a major purpose of the demonstration was to protest what the demonstrators considered an 'illegal' arrest of 23 students the...

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