Brown v. Louisiana/Concurrence White

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United States Supreme Court

383 U.S. 131

Brown  v.  Louisiana

 Argued: Dec. 6, 1965. --- Decided: Feb 23, 1966

Mr. Justice WHITE, concurring in the result.

Were it clear from this record that lingering in a public library for 10 minutes after ordering a wanted book contravened some explicit statute, ordinance, or library regulation of general application, or even if it were reasonably clear that a 10-minute interlude between receiving service and departure exceeded what is generally contemplated as a normal use of a public library, I would have difficulty joining in a reversal of this case, for in either of these events, I would consider a refusal to leave the library and an insistence upon violating a generally applicable condition concerning the use of the library evidence of an intent to breach the peace constitutionally sufficient to sustain a conviction. Nor would I deem the First Amendment to forbid a municipal regulation limiting loafing in library reading rooms.

But nothing of the kind comes through to me in this record. There is no such ordinance or regulation and it can hardly be said that the brief sojourn in this parish library departed so far from the common practice of library users. The petitioners were there but a very brief period before being asked to leave, they were quiet and orderly, they interfered with no other library users and for all this record reveals they might have been considering among themselves what to do with the rest of their day. I think that the petitioners were entitled to be where they were for the time that they remained, and it is difficult to believe that if this group had been white its members would have been asked to leave on such short notice, much less asked to leave by the sheriff and arrested, rather than merely escorted from the building, when reluctance to leave was demonstrated. That the library was a segregated institution and was not in the habit of allowing Negroes in the building only underlines this situation. In my view, the behavior of these petitioners and their use of the library building, even though it was for the purposes of a demonstration, did not depart significantly from what normal library use would contemplate.

The conclusion that petitioners were making only a normal and authorized use of this public library requires the reversal of their convictions. Petitioners' entering the library and refusing to forgo a use of the library normally permitted members of the public is no evidence, in the circumstances of this case, of any intent to breach the peace. Moreover, if the petitioners were making a use of the library normally permitted whites, why were they asked to leave the library? They were quiet, orderly, and exhibited no threatening or provocative behavior. The library had been a segregated institution, has been closed since the incident involved in this case, and the petitioners were advised they could pick up the desired book at the blue bookmobile. The State arrested petitioners because they refused to leave the library but offers no convincing explanation for why they were asked to leave. On this record, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that petitioners were asked to leave the library because they were Negroes. If they were, their convictions deny them equal protection of the laws.

Mr. Justice BLACK, with whom Mr. Justice CLARK, Mr. Justice HARLAN, and Mr. Justice STEWART join dissenting.


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).