Thomas v. Collins

Decision Date08 January 1945
Docket NumberNo. 14,14
Citation323 U.S. 516,89 L.Ed. 430,65 S.Ct. 315
PartiesTHOMAS v. COLLINS, Sheriff. Re
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 323 U.S. 819, 65 S.Ct. 557.

Appeal from the Supreme Court of Texas.

Mr. Lee Pressman, of Washington, D.C., and Ernest Goodman, of Detroit, Mich., for appellant.

Mr. Fagan Dickson, of Austin, Tex., for appellee.

Mr. Alvin J. Rockwell, of Washington, D.C., for the United States, amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

[Argument of Counsel from page 517 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice RUTLEDGE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The appeal is from a decision of the Supreme Court of Texas which denied appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus and remanded him to the custody of appellee, as sheriff of Travis County. 141 Tex. 591, 174 S.W.2d 958. In so deciding the court upheld, as against constitutional and other objections, appellant's commitment for contempt for violating a temporary restraining order issued by the District Court of Travis County. The order was issued ex parte and in terms restrained appellant, while in Texas, from soliciting members for or memberships in specified labor unions and others affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, without first obtaining an organizer's card as required by House Bill No. 100, c. 104, General and Special Laws of Texas, Regular Session, 48th Legislature 1943, Vernon's Ann.Civ.St. art. 5154a. After the order was served appellant addressed a mass meeting of workers and at the end of his speech asked persons present to join a union. For this he was held in contempt, fined and sentenced to a short imprisonment.

The case has been twice argued here. Each time appellant has insisted, as he did in the state courts, that the statute as it has been applied to him is in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment, as it incorporates the First, imposing a previous restraint upon the rights of freedom of speech and free assembly, and denying him the equal protection of the laws. He urges also that the application made of the statute is inconsistent with the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act, 49 Stat. 449, 29 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq., and other objections which need not be considered. For reasons to be stated we think the statute as it was applied in this case imposed previous restraint upon appellant's rights of free speech and free assembly and the judgment must be reversed.

The pertinent statutory provisions, Sections 5 and 12, are part of Texas' comprehensive scheme for regulating labor unions and their activities. They are set forth in the margin.1

I.

The facts are substantially undisputed. The appellant, Thomas, is the president of the International Union U.A.W. (United Automobile, Aircraft and Agricultural Implements Workers) and a vice president of the C.I.O. His duties are manifold, but in addition to executive functions they include giving aid and direction in organizing campaigns and by his own statement soliciting members, generally or in particular instances, for his organizations and their affiliated unions. He receives a fixed annual salary as president of the U.A.W., resides in Detroit, and travels widely through the nation in performing his work.

O.W.I.U. (Oil Workers Industrial Union), a C.I.O. affiliate, is the parent organization of many local unions in Texas, having its principal office in Fort Worth. One of these is Local No. 1002, with offices in Harris County and membership consisting largely of employees of the Humble Oil & Refining Company's plant at Bay Town, Texas, not far from Houston. During and prior to September, 1943, C.I.O. and O.W.I.U. were engaged in a campaign to organize the employees at this plant into Local No. 1002, after an order previously made by the National Labor Relations Board for the holding of an election. As part of the campaign a mass meeting was arranged for the evening of September 23, under the auspices of O.W.I.U., at the city hall in Pelly, Harris County, near the Bay Town plant. Wide publicity was given to the meeting beforehand. Arrangements were made for Thomas to come to Texas to address it and wide notice was given to his announced intention of doing so.

Thomas arrived in Houston the evening of September 21. He testified without contradiction that his only object in coming to Houston was to address this meeting, that he did not intend to remain there afterward and that he had return rail reservations for leaving the state within two days. At about 2:30 o'clock on the afternoon of Thursday, September 23, only some six hours before he was scheduled to speak, Thomas was served with the restraining order and a copy of the fiat.

These had been issued ex parte by the District Court of Travis County (which sits at Austin, the state capital, located about 170 miles from Houston) on the afternoon of September 22, in a proceeding instituted pursuant to Section 12 by the State's attorney general. The petition for the order shows on its face it was filed in anticipation of Thomas' scheduled speech.2 And the terms of the order show that it was issued in anticipation of the meeting and the speech.3

Upon receiving service, Thomas consulted his attorneys and determined to go ahead with the meeting as planned. He did so because he regarded the law and the citation as a restraint upon free speech and free assembly in so far as they prevented his making a speech or asking someone to join a union without having a license or organizer's card at the time.

Accordingly, Thomas went to the meeting, arriving about 8:00 p.m., and, with other speakers, including Massengale and Crossland, both union representatives, addressed an audience of some 300 persons. The meeting was orderly and peaceful. Thomas, in view of the unusual circumstances, had prepared a manuscript originally intended, according to his statement, to embody his entire address. He read the manuscript to the audience. It discussed, among other things, the State's effort, as Thomas conceived it, to interfere with his right to speak and closed with a general invitation to persons present not members of a labor union to join Local No. 1002 and thereby support the labor movement throughout the country. As written, the speech did not address the invitation to any specific individual by name or otherwise.4 But Thomas testified that he added, at the conclusion of the written speech, an oral solicitation of one Pat O'Sullivan, a nonunion man in the audience whom he previously had never seen.5

After the meeting Thomas, with two of the other union speakers, was arrested and taken before a justice of the peace. Complaints were filed in criminal proceedings, presumably pursuant to Section 11. Thomas was released on bond, returned to his hotel, and the next morning left for Dallas. There he learned an attachment for his arrest had been issued at Austin by the Travis County District Court, pursuant to the attorney general's motion filed that morning in contempt proceedings for violation of the temporary restraining order.6

On the evening of September 24, Thomas went to Austin for the hearing upon the temporary injunction set for the morning of the 25th. At this time he appeared and moved for dismissal of the complaint, for dissolution of the temporary restraining order, and to quash the contempt proceeding. The motions were denied and, after hearing, the court ordered the temporary injunction to issue. It also rendered judgment holding Thomas in contempt for vio- lating the restraining order and fixed the penalty at three days in jail and a fine of $100. Process for commitment thereupon issued and was executed. Application to the supreme court for the writ of habeas corpus was made and granted, the cause was set for hearing in October, and Thomas was released on bond, all on September 25. Thereafter, an amended application in habeas corpus was filed, hearing on the cause was had, judgment was rendered sustaining the commitment, a motion for rehearing was overruled, and the present appeal was perfected. Argument followed here at the close of the last term, with reargument at the beginning of the present one to consider questions upon which we desired further discussion.

II.

The Supreme Court of Texas, deeming habeas corpus an appropriate method for challenging the validity of the statute as applied,7 sustained the Act as a valid exercise of the State's police power, taken 'for the protection of the general welfare of the public, and particularly the laboring class,' (141 Tex. 591, 174 S.W.2d 961) with special reference to safeguarding laborers from imposture when approached by an alleged organizer. The provision, it was said, 'affects only the right of one to engage in the business as a paid organizer, and not the mere right of an individual to express his views on the merits of the union.' The court declared the act 'does not require a paid organizer to secure a license,' but makes mandatory the issuance of the card 'to all who come within the provisions of the Act upon their good-faith compliance therewith.' Accordingly it held that the regulation was not unreasonable.

The court conceded however that the Act 'interferes to a certain extent with the right of the organizer to speak as the paid representative of the union.' Nevertheless, it said, 'such interferences are not necessarily prohibited by the Constitution. The State under its police power may enact laws which interfere indirectly and to a limited extent with the right of speech or the liberty of the people where they are reasonably necessary for the protection of the general public.' Accordingly, it likened the instant prohibition to various other ones imposed by state or federal legislation upon 'the right of one to operate or speak as the agent of another,' including securities salesmen, insurance agents, real estate brokers, etc. And various decisions of this Court and others8 were thought to support the conclusion...

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