Staub v. City of Baxley,
355 U.S. 313 (1958)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Staub v. City of Baxley, 355 U.S. 313 (1958)

Staub v. City of Baxley

No. 48

Argued November 18-19, 1957

Decided January 13, 1958

355 U.S. 313


A city ordinance made it an offense to "solicit" citizens of the City to become members of any "organization, union or society" which requires fees or dues from its members without first applying for and receiving from the Mayor and Council a "permit," which they might grant or refuse after considering the character of the applicant, the nature of the organization and its effects upon the general welfare of the citizens. For soliciting applications for membership in a labor union in the private homes of employees without applying for or obtaining such a permit, appellant was convicted of a violation of this ordinance and sentenced to fine or imprisonment, notwithstanding her claim that the ordinance violated her rights under the Federal Constitution. The State Court of Appeals affirmed. It declined to pass on appellant's contention, on the grounds that (1) appellant lacked standing to attack the constitutionality of the ordinance because she had made no attempt to obtain a permit under it, and (2) under state procedure, her attack should have been made against specific sections of the ordinance, and not against the ordinance as a whole.


1. The decision of the State Court of Appeals does not rest on an adequate nonfederal ground, and this Court has jurisdiction of this appeal. Pp. 355 U. S. 318-320.

(a) Failure to apply for a license under an ordinance which on its face violates the Constitution does not preclude review in this Court of a judgment of conviction under such an ordinance. P. 355 U. S. 319.

(b) In the circumstances of this case, appellant's failure to attack specific sections of the ordinance, in accordance with state procedure, is not an adequate nonfederal ground of decision. Pp. 355 U. S. 319-320.

2. The ordinance is invalid on its face because it makes enjoyment of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech contingent upon the will of the Mayor and Council, and thereby constitutes a prior restraint upon, and abridges, that freedom, contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 355 U. S. 321-325.

94 Ga. App. 18, 93 S. E. 2d 375, reversed.

Page 355 U. S. 314

Primary Holding

State grounds that would prevent Supreme Court review do not exist when a state court decision is based on a state procedural rule without fair and substantial support.


Staub attempted to encourage employees in the City of Baxley to join the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union, for which she worked. She discussed the advantages of joining a union with one of the employees at her home, gave her literature about unions, and collected membership cards. Since she did not have a permit, she was charged with violating a city ordinance that required people who solicited membership for an organization that required membership fees to obtain a permit in advance. Staub argued that the ordinance was invalid under the First and Fourteenth Amendments but was convicted and sentenced to either imprisonment or a fine.

The state appellate court declined to consider the constitutionality of the ordinance because she had challenged it in its entirety rather than citing a particular section that was invalid.



  • Charles Evans Whittaker (Author)
  • Earl Warren
  • Hugo Lafayette Black
  • William Orville Douglas
  • Harold Hitz Burton
  • John Marshall Harlan II
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.

Review by the U.S. Supreme Court is barred when a judgment in a state court is based on an adequate non-federal ground, but this rule does not apply when the decision arises from a state procedural rule that does not have fair and substantial support. States should not require parties to enumerate the specific provisions of the law or regulation that they are challenging. This rule is archaic and should be abandoned.


  • Felix Frankfurter (Author)
  • Tom C. Clark

State court judgments should be upheld if they are based on state rules that do not interfere with a party's ability to raise a federal claim.

Case Commentary

Even though an adequate state ground prevents a federal court from considering the merits of the claim, the question of whether there actually is an adequate state ground requires review by the federal court. This means that a party generally can reach federal court to that extent.

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