Adderley v. Florida/Dissent Douglas

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United States Supreme Court

385 U.S. 39

Adderley  v.  Florida

 Argued: Oct. 18, 1966. --- Decided: Nov 14, 1966

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE, Mr. Justice BRENNAN, and Mr. Justice FORTAS concur, dissenting.

The First Amendment, applicable to the States by reason of the Fourteenth (Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 235, 83 S.Ct. 680, 683), provides that 'Congress shall make no law * * * abridging * * * the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.' These rights, along with religion, speech, and press, are preferred rights of the Constitution, made so by reason of that explicit guarantee and what Edmond Cahn in Confronting Injustice (1966) referred to as 'The Firstness of the First Amendment.' [1] With all respect, therefore, the Court errs in treating the case as if it were an ordinary trespass case or an ordinary picketing case.

The jailhouse, like an executive mansion, a legislative chamber, a courthouse, or the statehouse itself (Edwards v. South Carolina, supra) is one of the seats of governments whether it be the Tower of London, the Bastille, or a small county jail. And when it houses political prisoners or those who many think are unjustly held, it is an obvious center for protest. The right to petition for the redress of grievances has an ancient history [2] and is not limited to writing a letter or sending a telegram to a congressman; it is not confined to appearing before the local city council, or writing letters to the President or Governor or Mayor. See NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 429-431, 83 S.Ct. 328, 335-336, 9 L.Ed.2d 405. Conventional methods of petitioning may be, and often have been, shut off to large groups of our citizens. Legislators may turn deaf ears; formal complaints may be routed endlessly through a bureaucratic maze; courts may let the wheels of justice grind very slowly. Those who do not control television and radio, those who cannot afford to advertise in newspapers or circulate elaborate pamphlets may have only a more limited type of access to public officials. Their methods should not be condemned as tactics of obstruction and harassment as long as the assembly and petition are peaceable, as these were.

There is no question that petitioners had as their purpose a protest against the arrest of Florida A. & M. students for trying to integrate public theatres. The sheriff's testimony indicates that he well understood the purpose of the rally. The petitioners who testified unequivocally stated that the group was protesting the arrests, and state and local policies of segregation, including segregation of the jail. This testimony was not contradicted or even questioned. The fact that no one gave a formal speech, that no elaborate handbills were distributed, and that the group was not laden with signs would seem to be immaterial. Such methods are not the sine qua non of petitioning for the redress of grievances. The group did sing 'freedom' songs. And history shows that a song can be a powerful tool of protest. See Cox v. State of Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536, 546-548, 85 S.Ct. 453, 459-460. There was no violence; no threat of violence; no attempted jail break; no storming of a prison; no plan or plot to do anything but protest. The evidence is uncontradicted that the petitioners' conduct did not upset the jailhouse routine; things went on as they normally would. None of the group entered the jail. Indeed, they moved back from the entrance as they were instructed. There was no shoving, no pushing, no disorder or threat of riot. It is said that some of the group blocked part of the driveway leading to the jail entrance. The chief jailer, to be sure, testified that vehicles would not have been able to use the driveway. Never did the students locate themselves so as to cause interference with persons or vehicles going to or coming from the jail. Indeed, it is undisputed that the sheriff and deputy sheriff, in separate cars, were able to drive up the driveway to the parking places near the entrance and that no one obstructed their path. Further, it is undisputed that the entrance to the jail was not blocked. And whenever the students were requested to move they did so. If there was congestion, the solution was a further request to move to lawns or parking areas, not complete ejection and arrest. The claim is made that a tradesman waited inside the jail because some of the protestants were sitting around and leaning on his truck. The only evidence supporting such a conclusion is the testimony of a deputy sheriff that the tradesman 'came to the door * * * and then did not leave.' His remaining is just as consistent with a desire to satisfy his curiosity as it is with a restraint. Finally, the fact that some of the protestants may have felt their cause so just that they were willing to be arrested for making their protest outside the jail seems wholly irrelevant. A petition is nonetheless a petition, though its futility may make martyrdom attractive.

We do violence to the First Amendment when we permit this 'petition for redress of grievances' to be turned into a trespass action. It does not help to analogize this problem to the problem of picketing. Picketing is a form of protest usually directed against private interests. I do not see how rules governing picketing in general are relevant to this express constitutional right to assemble and to petition for redress of grievances. In the first place the jailhouse grounds were not marked with 'NO TRESPASSING!' signs, nor does respondent claim that the public was generally excluded from the grounds. Only the sheriff's fiat transformed lawful conduct into an unlawful trespass. To say that a private owner could have done the same if the rally had taken place on private property is to speak of a different case, as an assembly and a petition for redress of grievances run to government, not to private proprietors.

The Court forgets that prior to this day our decisions have drastically limited the application of state statutes inhibiting the right to go peacefully on public property to exercise First Amendment rights. As Mr. Justice Roberts wrote in Hague v. C.I.O., 307 U.S. 496, 515-516, 59 S.Ct. 954, 964, 83 L.Ed. 1423:

'* * * Wherever the title of streets and parks may rest, they have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions. Such use of the streets and public places has, from ancient times, been a part of the privileges, immunities, rights, and liberties of citizens. The privilege of a citizen of the United States to use the streets and parks for communication of views on national questions may be regulated in the interest of all; it is not absolute, but relative, and must be exercised in subordination to the general comfort and convenience, and in consonance with peace and good order; but it must not, in the guise of regulation, be abridged or denied.'

Such was the case of Edwards v. South Carolina, where aggrieved people 'peaceably assembled at the site of the State Government' to express their grievances to the citizens of the State as well as to the legislature. 372 U.S., at 235, 83 S.Ct., at 683. Edwards was in the tradition of Cox v. State of New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569, 61 S.Ct. 762, 85 L.Ed. 1049, where the public streets were said to be 'immemorially associated' with 'the right of assembly and the opportunities for the communication of thought and the discussion of public questions.' Id., at 574, 61 S.Ct., at 765. When we allow Florida to construe her 'malicious trespass' statute to bar a person from going on property knowing it is not his own and to apply that prohibition to public property, we discard Cox and Edwards. Would the case be any different if, as is common, the demonstration took place outside a building which housed both the jail and the legislative body? I think not.

There may be some public places which are so clearly committed to other purposes that their use for the airing of grievances is anomalous. There may be some instances in which assemblies and petitions for redress of grievances are not consistent with other necessary purposes of public property. A noisy meeting may be out of keeping with the serenity of the statehouse or the quiet of the courthouse. No one, for example, would suggest that the Senate gallery is the proper place for a vociferous protest rally. And in other cases it may be necessary to adjust the right to petition for redress of grievances to the other interests inhering in the uses to which the public property is normally put. See Cox v. State of New Hampshire, supra; Poulos v. State of New Hampshire, 345 U.S. 395, 73 S.Ct. 760, 97 L.Ed. 1105. But this is quite different from saying that all public places are off limits to people with grievances. See Hague v. C.I.O., supra; Cox v. State of New Hampshire, supra; Jamison v. State of Texas, 318 U.S. 413, 415-416, 63 S.Ct. 669, 671, 87 L.Ed. 869; Edwards v. South Carolina, supra. And it is farther yet from saying that the 'custodian' of the public property in his discretion can decide when public places shall be used for the communication of ideas, especially the constitutional right to assemble and petition for redress of grievances. See Hague v. C.I.O. supra; Schneider v. State of New Jersey, 308 U.S. 147, 163 164, 60 S.Ct. 146, 151, 84 L.Ed. 155; Cantwell v. State of Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 60 S.Ct. 900; Largent v. State of Texas, 318 U.S. 418, 63 S.Ct. 667, 87 L.Ed. 873; Niemotko v. State of Maryland, 340 U.S. 268, 71 S.Ct. 325, 95 L.Ed. 267; Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, 382 U.S. 87, 86 S.Ct. 211, 15 L.Ed.2d 176. For to place such discretion in any public official, be he the 'custodian' of the public property or the local police commissioner (cf. Kunz v. People of State of New York, 340 U.S. 290, 71 S.Ct. 312, 95 L.Ed. 280), is to place those who assert their First Amendment rights at his mercy. It gives him the awesome power to decide whose ideas may be expressed and who shall be denied a place to air their claims and petition their government. Such power is out of step with all our decisions prior to today where we have insisted that before a First Amendment right may be curtailed under the guise of a criminal law, any evil that may be collateral to the exercise of the right, must be isolated and defined in a 'narrowly drawn' statute (Cantwell v. State of Connecticut, supra, at 307, 60 S.Ct. at 904) lest the power to control excesses of conduct be used to suppress the constitutional right itself. See Stromberg v. People of State of California, 283 U.S. 359, 369, 51 S.Ct. 532, 535, 75 L.Ed. 1117; Herndon v. Lowry, 301 U.S. 242, 258-259, 57 S.Ct. 732, 739, 81 L.Ed. 1066; Edwards v. South Carolina, supra, 372 U.S. at 238, 83 S.Ct. at 684; N.A.A.C.P. v. Button, supra, 371 U.S. at 433, 83 S.Ct. at 338.

That tragic consequence happens today when a trespass law is used to bludgeon those who peacefully exercise a First Amendment right to protest to government against one of the most grievous of all modern oppressions which some of our States are inflicting on our citizens.

What we do today disregards the admonition in De Jonge v. State of Oregon, 299 U.S. 353, 364-365, 57 S.Ct. 255, 260, 81 L.Ed. 278:

'These (First Amendment) rights may be abused by using speech or press or assembly in order to incite to violence and crime. The people through their Legislatures may protect themselves against that abuse. But the legislative intenvention can find constitutional justification only by dealing with the abuse. The rights themselves must not be curtailed. The greater the importance of safeguarding the community from incitements to the overthrow of our institutions by force and violence, the more imperative is the need to preserve inviolate the constitutional rights of free speech, free press and free assembly in order to maintain the opportunity for free political discussion, to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes, if desired, may be obtained by peaceful means. Therein lies the security of the Republic, the very foundation of constitutional government.' Today a trespass law is used to penalize people for exercising a constitutional right. Tomorrow a disorderly conduct statute, a breach-of-the-peace statute, a vagrancy statute will be put to the same end. [3] It is said that the sheriff did not make the arrests because of the views which petitioners espoused. That excuse is usually given, as we know from the many cases involving arrests of minority groups for breaches of the peace, unlawful assemblies, and parading without a permit. The charge against William Penn, who preached a nonconformist doctrine in a street in London, was that he caused 'a great concourse and tumult of people' and contempt of the King and 'to the great disturbance of his peace.' 6 How.St.Tr. 951, 955. That was in 1670. In modern times, also, such arrests are usually sought to be justified by some legitimate function of government. [4] Yet by allowing these orderly and civilized protests against injustice to be suppressed, we only increase the forces of frustration which the conditions of second-class citizenship are generating amongst us.


^1  'Where would we really find the principal danger to civil liberty in a republic? Not in the governors as governors, not in the governed as governed, but in the governed unequipped to function as governors. The chief enemies of republican freedom are mental sloth, conformity, bigotry, superstition, credulity, monopoly in the market of ideas, and utter, benighted ignorance. Relying as it does on the consent of the governed, representative government cannot succeed unless the community receives enough information to grasp public issues and make sensible decisions. As lights which may have been enough for the past do not meet the needs of the present, so present lights will not suffice for the more extensive and complex problems of the future. Heretofore public enlightenment may have been only a manifest desideratum; today it constitutes an imperative necessity. The First Amendment, says Justice Black, 'reflects the faith that a good society is not static but advancing, and that the fullest possible interchange of ideas and beliefs is essential to attainment of this goal.' (From Feldman v. United States, 322 U.S. 487, 501, 64 S.Ct. 1082, 1088, 88 L.Ed. 1408 (dissenting opinion).)' Cahn, supra, p. 102.

^2  The historical antecedents of the right to petition for the redress of grievances run deep, and strike to the heart of the democratic philosophy. C. 61 of the Magna Carta provided:

'(T)hat if we or our justiciar, or our bailiffs, or any of our servants shall have done wrong in any way toward any one, or shall have transgressed any of the articles of peace or security and the wrong shall have been shown to four barons of the aforesaid twenty-five barons, let those four barons come to us or to our justiciar, if we

are out of the kingdom, laying before us the transgression, and let them ask that we cause that transgression to be corrected without delay.' Sources of Our Liberties 21 (Perry ed. 1959).

The representatives of the people vigorously exercised the right in order to gain the initiative in legislation and a voice in their government. See Pollard, The Evolution of Parliament 329 331 (1964). By 1669 the House of Commons had resolved that 'it is an inherent right of every commoner of England to prepare and present Petitions to the house of commons in case of grievance,' and 'That no court whatsoever hath power to judge or censure any Petition presented * * *.' 4 Parl.Hist.Eng. 432-433 (1669). The Bill of Rights of 1689 provided 'That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal.' Adams & Stephens, Select Documents of English Constitutional History 464. The right to petition for a redress of grievances was early asserted in the Colonies. The Stamp Act Congress of 1765 declared 'That it is the right of the British subjects in these colonies, to petition the king or either house of parliament.' Sources of Our Liberties 271 (Perry ed. 1959). The Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress, adopted October 14, 1774, declared that Americans 'have a right peaceably to assemble, consider their grievances, and petition the king; and that all prosecutions, prohibitory proclamations, and commitments for the same, are illegal.' Id., at 288. The Declaration of Independence assigned as one of the reasons for the break from England the fact that 'Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.' The constitutions of four of the original States specifically guaranteed the right. Mass.Const., Art. 19 (1780); Pa.Const., Art. IX, § 20 (1790); N.H.Const., Art. 32 (1784); N.C.Const., Art. 18 (1776).

^3  In 1932 over 28,000 veterans demanding a bonus marched on Washington, D.C., paraded the streets, and camped mostly in parks and other public lands in the District, Virginia, and Maryland only to be routed by the Army. See Waters, B.E.F. (1933).

^4  See, e.g., De Jonge v. State of Oregon, 299 U.S. 353, 57 S.Ct. 255; Feiner v. People of State of New York, 340 U.S. 315, 71 S.Ct. 303, 95 L.Ed. 267; Niemotko v. State of Maryland, 340 U.S. 268, 71 S.Ct. 325, 95 L.Ed. 267; Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 83 S.Ct. 680; Cox v. State of Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536, 85 S.Ct. 453; Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, 382 U.S. 87. The same is true of other measures which inhibit First Amendment rights. See, e.g., N.A.A.C.P. v. State of Alabama, 357 U.S. 449, 78 S.Ct. 1163, 2 L.Ed.2d 1488; Bates v. City of Little Rock, 361 U.S. 516, 80 S.Ct. 412, 4 L.Ed.2d 480; Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 81 S.Ct. 247, 5 L.Ed.2d 231; N.A.A.C.P. v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 83 S.Ct. 328. If the invalidity of regulations and official conduct curtailing First Amendment rights turned on an unequivocal showing that the measure was intended to inhibit the rights, protection would be sorely lacking. It is not the intent or purpose of the measure but its effect on First Amendment rights which is crucial.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).