Grayned v. City of Rockford 8212 5106, No. 70

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtMARSHALL
Citation33 L.Ed.2d 222,408 U.S. 104,92 S.Ct. 2294
Decision Date26 June 1972
Docket NumberNo. 70
PartiesRichard GRAYNED, Appellant, v. CITY OF ROCKFORD. —5106

408 U.S. 104
92 S.Ct. 2294
33 L.Ed.2d 222
Richard GRAYNED, Appellant,

v.

CITY OF ROCKFORD.

No. 70—5106.
Argued Jan. 19, 1972.
Decided June 26, 1972.

Syllabus

1. Antipicketing ordinance, virtually identical with one invalidated as violative of equal protection in Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92, 92 S.Ct. 2286, 33 L.Ed.2d 212, is likewise invalid. P. 107.

2. Antinoise ordinance prohibiting a person while on grounds adjacent to a building in which a school is in session from willfully making a noise or disversion that disturbs or tends to disturb 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, 85 S.Ct. 453, 13 L.Ed.2d 471; Coates v. Cincinnati, 402 U.S. 611, 91 S.Ct. 1686, 29 L.Ed.2d 214, 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 Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, 513, 89 S.Ct. 733, 740, 21 L.Ed.2d 731. Pp. 107—121.

46 Ill.2d 486, 263 N.E.2d 866, affirmed in part and reversed in part.

Sophia H. Hall, Chicago, for appellant Richard Grayned.

William E. Collins, Rockford, Ill., for appellee City of Rockford.

Page 105

Mr. Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant Richard Grayned was convicted for 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 of violating two Rockford ordinances, hereinafter referred to as the 'antipicketing' ordinance and the 'antinoise' 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, Ill.Rev.Stat.1971, c. 110A, § 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, 92 S.Ct. 119, 30 L.Ed.2d 48 (1971). We conclude that the antipicketing ordinance is unconstitutional, but affirm the court below with respect to the antinoise ordinance.

Page 107

I

At the time of appellant's arrest and conviction, Rockford's antipicketing 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, 408 U.S. 92, 92 S.Ct. 2286, 33 L.Ed.2d 212. 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

II

The antinoise 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 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 antinoise 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 did not elaborate on the meaning of the antinoise 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 antinoise 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, 90 S.Ct. 2169, 26 L.Ed.2d 548 (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, 253 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, 89 S.Ct. 946, 22 L.Ed.2d 134 (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 there was 'imminent threat of violence.' (Emphasis supplied.) See Gregory v. Chicago, 394 U.S. 111, 116—117, 121—122, 89 S.Ct. 946, 947, 951—952 (1969) (Black, J.,...

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4947 practice notes
  • Lebar v. Thompson, CIVIL NO. 3:CV-08-0072
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • May 13, 2013
    ...Posters 'N' Things. Ltd. v. United States, 511 U.S. 513, 519 (1994)(internal quotation omitted); see also, Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108-09 (1972). APage 18statute is unconstitutionally vague only if it "fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his c......
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    ...of the New Mexico statute, this decision can only be made authoritatively by the New Mexico courts. See Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 110, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 2299, 33 L.Ed.2d 222 (1972) (not within federal court power to construe and narrow state laws). "State courts are the ultima......
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    ...if it fails to give people of ordinary intelligence reasonable notice of what type of conduct is prohibited. Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 2298-99, 33 L.Ed.2d 222 (1972); Coates v. City of Cincinnati, 402 U.S. 611, 614, 91 S.Ct. 1686, 1688, 29 L.Ed.2d 214 (1......
  • United States v. Kelly, No. 16-10460.
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    ...ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, so that he may act accordingly." Grayned v. City of Rockford , 408 U.S. 104, 108, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 33 L.Ed.2d 222 (1972). Due process "mandate[s] that no individual be forced to speculate, at peril of indictment, wheth......
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4926 cases
  • Lebar v. Thompson, CIVIL NO. 3:CV-08-0072
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • May 13, 2013
    ...Posters 'N' Things. Ltd. v. United States, 511 U.S. 513, 519 (1994)(internal quotation omitted); see also, Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108-09 (1972). APage 18statute is unconstitutionally vague only if it "fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his c......
  • American Booksellers Ass'n, Inc. v. Schiff, Civ. 85-0966 BB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • November 3, 1986
    ...of the New Mexico statute, this decision can only be made authoritatively by the New Mexico courts. See Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 110, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 2299, 33 L.Ed.2d 222 (1972) (not within federal court power to construe and narrow state laws). "State courts are the ultima......
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    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • March 3, 1998
    ...if it fails to give people of ordinary intelligence reasonable notice of what type of conduct is prohibited. Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 2298-99, 33 L.Ed.2d 222 (1972); Coates v. City of Cincinnati, 402 U.S. 611, 614, 91 S.Ct. 1686, 1688, 29 L.Ed.2d 214 (1......
  • United States v. Kelly, No. 16-10460.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 30, 2017
    ...ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, so that he may act accordingly." Grayned v. City of Rockford , 408 U.S. 104, 108, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 33 L.Ed.2d 222 (1972). Due process "mandate[s] that no individual be forced to speculate, at peril of indictment, wheth......
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2 firm's commentaries
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    ...La. 2020). 10. Lindenbaum I, 497 F. Supp. 3d at 292-99. 11. Id. at 297. 12. Id. at 298-99. 13. Id. (citing Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 107 n.2 14. See, e.g., Eric J. Troutman, Oral Argument Held in Lindenbaum: Free Speech Hangs in the TCPA Balance (Again), NAT'L L. REV. (July......
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    ...La. 2020). 10. Lindenbaum I, 497 F. Supp. 3d at 292-99. 11. Id. at 297. 12. Id. at 298-99. 13. Id. (citing Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 107 n.2 14. See, e.g., Eric J. Troutman, Oral Argument Held in Lindenbaum: Free Speech Hangs in the TCPA Balance (Again), NAT'L L. REV. (July......
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    ...U.S. 87, 102 (1995) (O’Connor, J., dissenting). 21. Manning, supra note 14, at 617. 22. Id . at 669 ( citing Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108 (1972)). 23. See Merriam-Webster, Ambiguous , 1a. “doubtful or uncertain”; 2. “capable of being understood in two or more possible sens......
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    ...claim, and did not reach the merits of Tofurky's Fourteenth Amendment Claim.). 76. See supra Part I. 77. Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108 (1972); see also, e.g. , Stephenson v. Davenport Cmty. Sch. Dist., 110 F.3d 1303, 1308 (8th Cir. 1997). 78. Hill v. Colorado, 530 U.S. 703,......
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    ...Smith, & Kritzer, 2006).5. Per the companion cases Chicago Police Department v. Mosley,408 U.S. 92 (1972), andGrayned v. Rockford,408 U.S. 104 (1972).6. The cases include Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983); Massachusetts v. Upton, 466U.S. 727 (1984); United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 902 ......
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