National Association For Advancement of Colored People v. State of Alabama Patterson

Decision Date30 June 1958
Docket NumberNo. 91,91
Citation2 L.Ed.2d 1488,357 U.S. 449,78 S.Ct. 1163
PartiesNATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR the ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE, a Corporation, Petitioner, v. STATE OF ALABAMA, ex rel. John PATTERSON, Attorney General
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 449-450 intentionally omitted] Mr. Robert L. Carter, New York City, for petitioner.

Mr. Edmon L. Rinehart, Montgomery, Ala., for respondent.

Mr. Justice HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

We review from the standpoint of its validity under the Federal Constitution a judgment of civil contempt entered against petitioner, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in the courts of Alabama. The question presented is whether Alabama, consistently with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, can compel petitioner to reveal to the State's Attorney General the names and addresses of all its Alabama members and agents, without regard to their positions or functions in the Association. The judgment of contempt was based upon petitioner's refusal to comply fully with a court order requiring in part the production of membership lists. Petitioner's claim is that the order, in the circumstances shown by this record, violated rights assured to petitioner and its members under the Constitution.

Alabama has a statute similar to those of many other States which requires a foreign corporation, except as exempted, to qualify before doing business by filing its corporate charter with the Secretary of State and designating a place of business and an agent to receive service of process. The statute imposes a fine on a corporation transacting intrastate business before qualifying and provides for criminal prosecution of officers of such a corporation. Ala.Code, 1940, Tit. 10, §§ 192—198. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is a nonprofit membership corporation organized under the laws of New York. Its purposes, fostered on a nationwide basis, are those indicated by its name,* and it oper- ates through chartered affiliates which are independent unincorporated associations, with membership therein equivalent to membership in petitioner. The first Alabama affiliates were chartered in 1918. Since that time the aims of the Association have been advanced through activities of its affiliates, and in 1951 the Association itself opened a regional office in Alabama, at which it employed two supervisory persons and one clerical worker. The Association has never complied with the qualification statute, from which it considered itself exempt.

In 1956 the Attorney General of Alabama brought an equity suit in the State Circuit Court, Montgomery County, to enjoin the Association from conducting further activities within, and to oust it from, the State. Among other things the bill in equity alleged that the Association had opened a regional office and had organized various affiliates in Alabama; had recruited members and solicited contributions within the State; had given financial support and furnished legal assistance to Negro students seeking admission to the state university; and had supported a Negro boycott of the bus lines in Montgomery to compel the seating of passengers without regard to race. The bill recited that the Association, by continuing to do business in Alabama without complying with the qualification statute, was '* * * causing irreparable injury to the property and civil rights of the residents and citizens of the State of Alabama for which criminal prosecution and civil actions at law afford no adequate relief * * *.' On the day the complaint was filed, the Circuit Court issued ex parte an order restraining the Association, pendente lite, from engaging in further activities within the State and forbidding it to take any steps to qualify itself to do business therein.

Petitioner demurred to the allegations of the bill and moved to dissolve the restraining order. It contended that its activities did not subject it to the qualification requirements of the statute and that in any event what the State sought to accomplish by its suit would violate rights to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Before the date set for a hearing on this motion, the State moved for the production of a large number of the Association's records and papers, including bank statements, leases, deeds, and records containing the names and addresses of all Alabama 'members' and 'agents' of the Association. It alleged that all such documents were necessary for adequate preparation for the hearing, in view of petitioner's denial of the conduct of intrastate business within the meaning of the qualification statute. Over petitioner's objections, the court ordered the production of a substantial part of the requested records, including the membership lists, and postponed the hearing on the restraining order to a date later than the time ordered for production.

Thereafter petitioner filed its answer to the bill in equity. It admitted its Alabama activities substantially as alleged in the complaint and that it had not qualified to do business in the State. Although still disclaiming the statute's application to it, petitioner offered to qualify if the bar from qualification made part of the restraining order were lifted, and it submitted with the answer an executed set of the forms required by the statute. However petitioner did not comply with the production order, and for this failure was adjudged in civil contempt and fined $10,000. The contempt judgment provided that the fine would be subject to reduction or remission if compliance were forthcoming within five days but otherwise would be increased to $100,000.

At the end of the five-day period petitioner produced substantially all the data called for by the production order except its membership lists, as to which it contended that Alabama could not constitutionally compel disclosure, and moved to modify or vacate the contempt judgment, or stay it execution pending appellate review. This motion was denied. While a similar stay application, which was later denied, was pending before the Supreme Court of Alabama, the Circuit Court made a further order adjudging petitioner in continuing contempt and increasing the fine already imposed to $100,000. Under Alabama law, see Jacoby v. Goetter, Weil & Co., 74 Ala. 427, the effect of the contempt adjudication was to foreclose petitioner from obtaining a hearing on the merits of the underlying ouster action, or from taking any steps to dissolve the temporary restraining order which had been issued ex parte, until it purged itself of contempt. But cf. Harrison v. St. Louis & S.F.R. Co., 232 U.S. 318, 34 S.Ct. 333, 58 L.Ed. 621; Hovey v. Elliott, 167 U.S. 409, 17 S.Ct. 841, 42 L.Ed. 215.

The State Supreme Court thereafter twice dismissed petitions for certiorari to review this final contempt judgment, the first time, 265 Ala. 699, 91 So.2d 221, for insufficiency of the petition's allegations and the second time on procedural grounds. 265 Ala. 349, 91 So.2d 214. We granted certiorari because of the importance of the constitutional questions presented. 353 U.S. 972, 77 S.Ct. 1056, 1 L.Ed.2d 1135.


We address ourselves first to respondent's contention that we lack jurisdiction because the denial of certiorari by the Supreme Court of Alabama rests on an independent nonfederal ground, namely, that petitioner in applying for certiorari had pursued the wrong appellate remedy under state law. Respondent recognizes that our jurisdiction is not defeated if the nonfederal ground relied on by the state court is 'without any fair or substantial support,' Ward v. Board of County Commissioners, 253 U.S. 17, 22, 40 S.Ct. 419, 421, 64 L.Ed. 751. It thus becomes our duty to ascertain, '* * * in order that constitutional guaranties may appropriately be enforced, whether the asserted non-federal ground independently and adequately supports the judgment.' Abie State Bank v. Bryan, 282 U.S. 765, 773, 51 S.Ct. 252, 255, 75 L.Ed. 690.

The Alabama Supreme Court held that it could not consider the constitutional issues underlying the contempt judgment which related to the power of the State to order production of membership lists because review by certiorari was limited to instances '* * * where the court lacked jurisdiction of the proceeding, or where on the face of it the order disobeyed was void, or where procedural requirements with respect to citation for contempt and the like were not observed, or where the fact of contempt is not sustained * * *.' 265 Ala. at page 353, 91 So.2d at page 217. The proper means for petitioner to obtain review of the judgment in light of its constitutional claims, said the court, was by way of mandamus to quash the discovery order prior to the contempt adjudication. Because of petitioner's failure to pursue this remedy, its challenge to the contempt order was restricted to the above grounds. Apparently not deeming the constitutional objections to draw into question whether 'on the face of it the order disobeyed was void,' the court found no infirmity in the contempt judgment under this limited scope of review. At the same time it did go on to consider petitioner's constitutional challenge to the order to produce membership lists but found it untenable since membership lists were not privileged against disclosure pursuant to reasonable state demands and since the privilege against self-incrimination was not available to corporations.

We are unable to reconcile the procedural holding of the Alabama Supreme Court in the present case with its past unambiguous holdings as to the scope of review available upon a writ of certiorari addressed to a contempt judgment. As early as 1909 that court said in such a case, Ex parte Dickens, 162 Ala. 272, at pages 276, 279—280, 50 So. 218, at pages 220, 221:

'Originally, on certiorari, only the question of...

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