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COX v. LOUISIANA

decided: January 18, 1965.

COX
v.
LOUISIANA



APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF LOUISIANA.

Warren, Black, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Goldberg

Author: Goldberg

[ 379 U.S. Page 560]

 MR. JUSTICE GOLDBERG delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant was convicted of violating a Louisiana statute which provides:

"Whoever, with the intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding the administration of justice, or with the intent of influencing any judge, juror, witness, or court officer, in the discharge of his duty pickets or parades in or near a building housing a court of the State of Louisiana . . . shall be fined not more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than one year, or both." La. Rev. Stat. § 14:401 (Cum. Supp. 1962).

This charge was based upon the same set of facts as the "disturbing the peace" and "obstructing a public passage" charges involved and set forth in No. 24, ante, and was tried along with those offenses. Appellant was convicted on this charge also and was sentenced to the maximum penalty under the statute of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine, which penalty was cumulative with those in No. 24. These convictions were affirmed by the Louisiana Supreme Court, 245 La. 303, 158 So. 2d 172. Appellant appealed to this Court contending that the statute was unconstitutional on its face and as applied to him. We noted probable jurisdiction, 377 U.S. 921.

I.

We shall first consider appellant's contention that this statute must be declared invalid on its face as an unjustified restriction upon freedoms guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

[ 379 U.S. Page 561]

     This statute was passed by Louisiana in 1950 and was modeled after a bill pertaining to the federal judiciary, which Congress enacted later in 1950, 64 Stat. 1018, 18 U. S. C. § 1507 (1958 ed.). Since that time, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have passed similar statutes. Mass. Ann. Laws, c. 268, § 13A; Purdon's Pa. Stat. Ann., Tit. 18, § 4327. The federal statute resulted from the picketing of federal courthouses by partisans of the defendants during trials involving leaders of the Communist Party. This picketing prompted an adverse reaction from both the bar and the general public. A number of groups urged legislation to prohibit it. At a special meeting held in March 1949, the Judicial Conference of the United States passed the following resolution: " Resolved, That we condemn the practice of picketing the courts, and believe that effective means should be taken to prevent it." Report of the Judicial Conference of the United States, 203 (1949). A Special Committee on Proposed Legislation to Prohibit Picketing of the Courts was appointed to make recommendations to the Conference on this subject. Ibid. In its Report to the Judicial Conference, dated September 23, 1949, at p. 3, the Special Committee stated: "The sentiment of bar associations and individual lawyers has been and is practically unanimous in favor of legislation to prohibit picketing of courts." Upon the recommendation of this Special Committee, the Judicial Conference urged the prompt enactment of the then-pending bill. Report of the Judicial Conference of the United States, 17-18 (1949). Similar recommendations were made by the American Bar Association, numerous state and local bar associations, and individual lawyers and judges. See Joint Hearings before the Subcommittees of the Committees on the Judiciary on S. 1681 and H. R. 3766, 81st Cong., 1st Sess.; H. R. Rep. No. 1281, 81st Cong., 1st Sess.; S. Rep. No. 732, 81st Cong., 1st Sess.; Bills Condemning

[ 379 U.S. Page 562]

     Picketing of Courts Before Congress, 33 J. Am. Jud. Soc. 53 (1949).

This statute, unlike the two previously considered, is a precise, narrowly drawn regulatory statute which proscribes certain specific behavior. Cf. Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 236. It prohibits a particular type of conduct, namely, picketing and parading, in a few specified locations, in or near courthouses.

There can be no question that a State has a legitimate interest in protecting its judicial system from the pressures which picketing near a courthouse might create. Since we are committed to a government of laws and not of men, it is of the utmost importance that the administration of justice be absolutely fair and orderly. This Court has recognized that the unhindered and untrammeled functioning of our courts is part of the very foundation of our constitutional democracy. See Wood v. Georgia, 370 U.S. 375, 383. The constitutional safeguards relating to the integrity of the criminal process attend every stage of a criminal proceeding, starting with arrest and culminating with a trial "in a courtroom presided over by a judge." Rideau v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723, 727. There can be no doubt that they embrace the fundamental conception of a fair trial, and that they exclude influence or domination by either a hostile or friendly mob. There is no room at any stage of judicial proceedings for such intervention; mob law is the very antithesis of due process. See Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309, 347 (Holmes, J., dissenting). A State may adopt safeguards necessary and appropriate to assure that the administration of justice at all stages is free from outside control and influence. A narrowly drawn statute such as the one under review is obviously a safeguard both necessary and appropriate to vindicate the State's interest in assuring justice under law.

[ 379 U.S. Page 563]

     Nor does such a statute infringe upon the constitutionally protected rights of free speech and free assembly. The conduct which is the subject of this statute -- picketing and parading -- is subject to regulation even though intertwined with expression and association. The examples are many of the application by this Court of the principle that certain forms of conduct mixed with speech may be regulated or prohibited. The most classic of these was pointed out long ago by Mr. Justice Holmes: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic." Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 52. A man may be punished for encouraging the commission of a crime, Fox v. Washington, 236 U.S. 273, or for uttering "fighting words," Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568. This principle has been applied to picketing and parading in labor disputes. See Hughes v. Superior Court, 339 U.S. 460; Giboney v. Empire Storage & Ice Co., 336 U.S. 490; Building Service Employees v. Gazzam, 339 U.S. 532. But cf. Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88. These authorities make it clear, as the Court said in Giboney, that "it has never been deemed an abridgment of freedom of speech or press to make a course of conduct illegal merely because the conduct was in part initiated, evidenced, or carried out by means of language, either spoken, written, or printed." Giboney v. Empire Storage & Ice Co., supra, at 502.

Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252, and Pennekamp v. Florida, 328 U.S. 331, do not hold to the contrary. Both these cases dealt with the power of a judge to sentence for contempt persons who published or caused to be published writings commenting on judicial proceedings. They involved newspaper editorials, an editorial cartoon, and a telegram sent by a labor leader to the Secretary of Labor. Here we deal not with the contempt power -- a

[ 379 U.S. Page 564]

     power which is "based on a common law concept of the most general and undefined nature." Bridges v. California, supra, at 260. Rather, we are reviewing a statute narrowly drawn to punish specific conduct that infringes a substantial state interest in protecting the judicial process. See Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 307-308; Giboney v. Empire Storage & Ice Co., supra. We are not concerned here with such a pure form of expression as newspaper comment or a telegram by a citizen to a public official. We deal in this case not with free speech alone, but with expression mixed with particular conduct. In Giboney, this Court expressly recognized this distinction when it said, "In holding this, we are mindful of the essential importance to our society of a vigilant protection of freedom of speech and press. Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252, 263. States cannot consistently with our Constitution abridge those freedoms to obviate slight inconveniences or annoyances. Schneider v. State, 308 U.S. 147, 162. But placards used as an essential and inseparable part of a grave offense against an important public law cannot immunize that unlawful conduct from state control." 336 U.S., at 501-502.

We hold that this statute on its face is a valid law dealing with conduct subject to regulation so as to vindicate important interests of society and that the fact that free speech is intermingled with such conduct does not bring with it constitutional protection.

II.

We now deal with the Louisiana statute as applied to the conduct in this case. The group of 2,000, led by appellant, paraded and demonstrated before the courthouse. Judges and court officers were in attendance to discharge their respective functions. It is undisputed that a major purpose of the demonstration was to protest

[ 379 U.S. Page 565]

     what the demonstrators considered an "illegal" arrest of 23 students the previous day. While the students had not been arraigned or their trial set for any day certain, they were charged with violation of the law, and the judges responsible for trying them and passing upon the legality of their arrest were then in the building.

It is, of course, true that most judges will be influenced only by what they see and hear in court. However, judges are human; and the legislature has the right to recognize the danger that some judges, jurors, and other court officials, will be consciously or unconsciously influenced by demonstrations in or near their courtrooms both prior to and at the time of the trial. A State may also properly protect the judicial process from being misjudged in the minds of the public. Suppose demonstrators paraded and picketed for weeks with signs asking that indictments be dismissed, and that a judge, completely uninfluenced by these demonstrations, dismissed the indictments. A State may protect against the possibility of a conclusion by the public under these circumstances that the judge's action was in part a product of intimidation and did not flow only from the fair and orderly working of the judicial process. See S. Rep. No. 732, 81st Cong., 1st Sess., 4.

Appellant invokes the clear and present danger doctrine in support of his argument that the statute cannot constitutionally be applied to the conduct involved here. He says, relying upon Pennekamp and Bridges, that "no reason exists to apply a different standard to the case of a criminal penalty for a peaceful demonstration in front of a courthouse than the standard of clear and present danger applied in the contempt cases." (Appellant's Br., p. 22.) He defines the standard to be applied to both situations to be whether the expression of opinion presents a clear and present danger to the administration of justice.

[ 379 U.S. Page 566]

     We have already pointed out the important differences between the contempt cases and the present one, supra, at 563-564. Here we deal not with the contempt power but with a narrowly drafted statute and not with speech in its pristine form but with conduct of a totally different character. Even assuming the applicability of a general clear and present danger test, it is one thing to conclude that the mere publication of a newspaper editorial or a telegram to a Secretary of Labor, however critical of a court, presents no clear and present danger to the administration of justice and quite another thing to conclude that crowds, such as this, demonstrating before a courthouse may not be prohibited by a legislative determination based on experience that such conduct inherently threatens the judicial process. We therefore reject the clear and present danger argument of appellant.

III.

Appellant additionally argues that his conviction violated due process as there was no evidence of intent to obstruct justice or influence any judicial official as required by the statute. Thompson v. Louisville, 362 U.S. 199. We cannot agree that there was no evidence within the "due process" rule enunciated in Thompson v. Louisville. We have already noted that various witnesses and Cox himself stated that a major purpose of the demonstration was to protest what was considered to be an illegal arrest of 23 students. Thus, the very subject matter of the demonstration was an arrest which is normally the first step in a series of legal proceedings. The demonstration was held in the vicinity of the courthouse where the students' trials would take place. The courthouse contained the judges who in normal course would be called upon to try the students' cases just as they tried appellant. Ronnie Moore, the student leader of the demonstration, a defense witness, stated, as we understand

[ 379 U.S. Page 567]

     his testimony, that the demonstration was in part to protest injustice; he felt it was a form of "moral persuasion" and hoped it would have its effects. The fact that the students were not then on trial and had not been arraigned is not controlling in the face of this affirmative evidence manifesting the plain intent of the demonstrators to condemn the arrest and ensuing judicial proceedings against the prisoners as unfair and unwarranted. The fact that by their lights appellant and the 2,000 students were seeking justice and not its obstruction is as irrelevant as would be the motives of the mob condemned by Justice Holmes in Frank v. Mangum, supra. Louisiana, as we have pointed out supra, has the right to construe its statute to prevent parading and picketing from unduly influencing the administration of justice at any point or time in its process, regardless of whether the motives of the demonstrators are good or bad.

While this case contains direct evidence taking it out of the Thompson v. Louisville doctrine, even without this evidence, we would be compelled to reject the contention that there was no proof of intent. Louisiana surely has the right to infer the appropriate intent from circumstantial evidence. At the very least, a group of demonstrators parading and picketing before a courthouse where a criminal charge is pending, in protest against the arrest of those charged, may be presumed to intend to influence judges, jurors, witnesses or court officials. Cf. Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 107 (opinion of MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS).

Absent an appropriately drawn and applicable statute, entirely different considerations would apply if, for example, the demonstrators were picketing to protest the actions of a mayor or other official of a city completely unrelated to any judicial proceedings, who just happened to have an office located in the courthouse building. Cf. In re Brinn, 305 N. Y. 887, 114 N. E. 2d 430; Joint Hearings, supra, at 20.

[ 379 U.S. Page 568]

     IV.

There are, however, more substantial constitutional objections arising from appellant's conviction on the particular facts of this case. Appellant was convicted for demonstrating not "in," but "near" the courthouse. It is undisputed that the demonstration took place on the west sidewalk, the far side of the street, exactly 101 feet from the courthouse steps and, judging from the pictures in the record, approximately 125 feet from the courthouse itself. The question is raised as to whether the failure of the statute to define the word "near" renders it unconstitutionally vague. See Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U.S. 451. Note, The Void-for-Vagueness Doctrine in the Supreme Court, 109 U. Pa. L. Rev. 67. It is clear that there is some lack of specificity in a word such as "near."*fn1 While this lack of specificity may not render the statute unconstitutionally vague, at least as applied to a demonstration within the sight and hearing of those in the courthouse,*fn2 it is clear that the statute, with respect to the determination of how near the courthouse a particular demonstration can be, foresees a degree of on-the-spot administrative interpretation by officials charged with responsibility for administering and enforcing it. It is apparent that demonstrators, such as those involved

[ 379 U.S. Page 569]

     here, would justifiably tend to rely on this administrative interpretation of how "near" the courthouse a particular demonstration might take place. Louisiana's statutory policy of preserving order around the courthouse would counsel encouragement of just such reliance. This administrative discretion to construe the term "near" concerns a limited control of the streets and other areas in the immediate vicinity of the courthouse and is the type of narrow discretion which this Court has recognized as the proper role of responsible officials in making determinations concerning the time, place, duration, and manner of demonstrations. See Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569; Poulos v. New Hampshire, 345 U.S. 395. See generally the discussion on this point in No. 24, pp. 553-558, ante. It is not the type of unbridled discretion which would allow an official to pick and choose among expressions of view the ones he will permit to use the streets and other public facilities, which we have invalidated in the obstruction of public passages statute as applied in No. 24, ante. Nor does this limited administrative regulation of traffic which the Court has consistently recognized as necessary and permissible, constitute a waiver of law which is beyond the power of the police. Obviously telling demonstrators how far from the courthouse steps is "near" the courthouse for purposes of a permissible peaceful demonstration is a far cry from allowing one to commit, for example, murder, or robbery.*fn3

The record here clearly shows that the officials present gave permission for the demonstration to take place across the street from the courthouse. Cox testified that they ...


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