Hague v. Committee For Industrial Organization

Decision Date05 June 1939
Docket NumberNo. 651,651
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 496-500 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Charles Hershenstein, Edward J. O'Mara, and James A. Hamill, all of Jersey City, N.J., for petitioners.

Messrs. Morris L. Ernst. of New York City, and Spaulding Frazer, of Newark, N.J., for respondents.

Mr. Justice BUTLER:

The judgment of the court in this case is that the decree is modified and as modified affirmed. Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER and Mr. Justice DOUGLAS took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. Mr. Justice ROBERTS has an opinion in which Mr. Justice BLACK concurs, and Mr. Justice STONE an opinion in which Mr. Justice REED concurs. The CHIEF JUSTICE concurs in an opinion. Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS and Mr. Justice BUTLER dissent for reasons stated in opinions by them respectively.

Mr. Justice ROBERTS delivered an opinion in which Mr. Justice BLACK concurred.

We granted certiorari as the case presents important questions in respect of the asserted privilege and immunity of citizens of the United States to advocate action pursuant to a federal statute, by distribution of printed matter and oral discussion in peaceable assembly; and the jurisdiction of federal courts of suits to restrain the abridgment of such privilege and immunity.

The respondents individual citizens, unincorporated labor organizations composed of such citizens and a mem- bership corporation, brought suit in the United States District Court against the petitioners, the Mayor, the Director of Public Safety, and the Chief of Police of Jersey City, New Jersey, and the Board of Commissioners, the governing body of the city.

The bill alleges that acting under a city ordinance forbidding the leasing of any hall, without a permit from the Chief of Police, for a public meeting at which a speaker shall advocate obstruction of the Government of the United States or a state, or a change of government by other than lawful means, the petitioners, and their subordinates, have denied respondents the right to hold lawful meetings in Jersey City on the ground that they are Communists or Communist organizations; that pursuant to an unlawful plan, the petitioners have caused the eviction from the municipality of persons they considered undesirable because of their labor organization activities, and have announced that they will continue so to do. It further alleges that acting under an ordinance which forbids any person to 'distribute or cause to be distributed or strewn about any street or public place any newspapers, paper, periodical, book magazine, circular, card or pamphlet', the petitioners have discriminated against the respondents by prohibiting and interfering with distribution of leaflets and pamphlets by the respondents while permitting others to distribute similar printed matter; that pursuant to a plan and conspiracy to deny the respondents their Constitutional rights as citizens of the United States, the petitioners have caused respondents, and those acting with them, to be arrested for distributing printed matter in the streets, and have caused them, and their associates, to be carried beyond the limits¢of the city or to remote places therein, and have compelled them to board ferry boats destined for New York; have, with violence and force, interfered with the distribution of pamphlets discussing the rights of citizens under the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq.; have unlawfully searched persons coming into the city and seized printed matter in their possession; have arrested and prosecuted respondents, and those acting with them, for attempting to distribute such printed matter; and have threatened that if respondents attempt to hold public meetings in the city to discuss rights afforded by the National Labor Relations Act, they would be arrested; and unless restrained, the petitioners will continue in their unlawful conduct. The bill further alleges that respondents have repeatedly applied for permits¢to hold public meetings in the city for the stated purpose, as required by ordinance,1 although they do not admit the validity of the ordinance; but in execution of a common plan and purpose, the petitioners have consistently refused to issue any permits for meetings to be held by, or sponsored by, respondents, and have thus prevented the holding of such meetings; that the respondents did not, and do not, purpose to advocate the destruction or overthrow of the government of the United States, or that of New Jersey, but that their sole purpose is to explain to workingmen the purposes of the National Labor Relations¢act, the benefits to be derived from it, and the aid which the Committee for Industrial Organization would furnish workingmen to that end; and all the activities in which they seek to engage in Jersey City were, and are, to be performed peacefully, without intimidation, fraud, violence, or other unlawful methods.

The bill charges that the suit is to redress 'the deprivation, under color of state law, statute and ordinance, of rights privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution of the United States and of rights secured by laws of the United States providing for equal rights of citizens of the United States * * *.' It charges that the petitioners' conduct 'is in violation of their (respondents) rights and privileges as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.' It alleges that the petitioners' conduct has been 'in pursuance of an unlawful conspiracy * * * to injure oppress threaten and intimidate citizens of the United States, including the individual plaintiffs herein, * * * in the free exercise and enjoyment of the rights and privileges secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States. * * *'

The bill charges that the ordinances are unconstitutional and void, or are being enforced against respondents in an unconstitutional and discriminatory way; and that the petitioners, as officials of the city, purporting to act under the ordinances, have deprived respondents of the privileges of free speech and peaceable assembly secured to them, as citizens of the United States, by the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S.C.A.Const. It prays an injunction against continuance of petitioners' conduct.

The bill alleges that the cause is of a civil nature, arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States, wherein the amount in controversy exceeds $3,000, exclusive of interest and costs; and is a suit in equity to redress the deprivation, under color of state law, statute and ordinance, of rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution of the United States, and of rights secured by the laws of the United States providing for equal rights of citizens of the United States and of all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States.

The answer denies generally, or qualifies, the allegations of the bill but does not deny that the individual respondents are citizens of the United States; denies that the amount in controversy 'as to each plaintiff and against each defendant' exceeds $3,000, exclusive of interest and costs; and alleges that the supposed grounds of federal jurisdiction are frivolous, no facts being alleged sufficient to show that any substantial federal question is involved.

After trial upon the merits the District Court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law and a decree in favor of respondents.2 In brief, the court found that the purposes of respondents, other than the American Civil Liberties Union, were the organization of unorganized workers into labor unions, causing such unions to exercise the normal and legal functions of labor organizations, such as collective bargaining with respect to the betterment of wages, hours of work and other terms and conditions of employment, and that these purposes were lawful; that the petitioners, acting in their official capacities, have adopted and enforced the deliberate policy of excluding and removing from Jersey City the agents of the respondents; have interfered with their right of passage upon the streets and access to the parks of the city; that these ends have been accomplished by force and violence despite the fact that the persons affected were acting in an orderly and peaceful manner; that exclusion, removal, personal restraint and interference, by force and violence, is accomplished without authority of law and without promptly bringing the persons taken into custody before a judicial officer for hearing.

The court further found that the petitioners, as officials, acting in reliance on the ordinance dealing with the subject, have adopted and enforced a deliberate policy of preventing the respondents, and their associates, from distributing circulars, leaflets, or handbills in Jersey City; that this has been done by policemen acting forcibly and violently; that the petitioners propose to continue to enforce the policy of such prevention; that the circulars and handbills, distribution of which has been prevented, were not offensive to public morals, and did not advocate unlawful conduct, but were germane to the purposes alleged in the bill, and that their distribution was being carried out in a way consistent with public order and without molestation of individuals or misuse or littering of the streets. Similar findings were made with respect to the prevention of the distribution of placards.

The findings are that the petitioners, as officials, have adopted and enforced a deliberate policy of forbidding the respondents and their associates from communicating their views respecting the National Labor Relations Act to the citizens of Jersey City by holding meetings¢or assemblies in the open air and at public places; that there is no competent proof that the proposed speakers have ever spoken at an assembly where a breach of the peace occurred...

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