Petitioners, custodians of the records of local branches of the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, were
tried, convicted and fined for violating identical occupational
license tax ordinances of two Arkansas cities by refusing to
furnish the city officials with lists of the names of the members
of the local branches of the Association.
On the record in this case, compulsory disclosure
of the membership lists would work unjustified interference with
the members' freedom of association, which is protected by the Due
Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by the
States; and the convictions are reversed. Pp. 361 U. S.
(a) It is now beyond dispute that freedom of association for the
purpose of advancing ideas and airing grievances is protected by
the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by
the States. Pp. 361 U. S.
(b) On the record in this case, it sufficiently appears that
compulsory disclosure of the membership lists of the local branches
of the Association would work a significant interference with the
freedom of association of their members. Pp. 361 U. S.
(c) The cities here, as instrumentalities of the State, have not
demonstrated so cogent an interest in obtaining and making public
the membership lists of these organizations as to justify the
substantial abridgment of associational freedom which such
disclosures would effect, since the record discloses no relevant
correlation between the power of the municipalities to impose
occupational license taxes and the compulsory disclosure and
publication of these membership lists. Pp. 361 U. S.
229 Ark. 819, 319
Page 361 U. S. 517
MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.
Each of the petitioners has been convicted of violating an
identical ordinance of an Arkansas municipality by refusing a
demand to furnish city officials with a list of the names of the
members of a local branch of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People. The question for decision is whether
these convictions can stand under the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Municipalities in Arkansas are authorized by the State to levy a
license tax on any person, firm, individual, or corporation
engaging in any "trade, business, profession, vocation or calling"
within their corporate limits. [Footnote 1
] Pursuant to this authority, the City of Little
Rock and the City of North Little Rock have for some years imposed
annual license taxes on a broad variety of businesses, occupations,
and professions. [Footnote 2
Charitable organizations which engage in the activities affected
are relieved from paying the taxes.
In 1957, the two cities added identical amendments to their
occupation license tax ordinances. These amendments require that
any organization operating within the municipality in question must
supply to the City Clerk,
Page 361 U. S. 518
upon request and within a specified time, (1) the official name
of the organization; (2) its headquarters or regular meeting place;
(3) the names of the officers, agents, servants, employees, or
representatives, and their salaries; (4) the purpose of the
organization; (5) a statement as to dues, assessments, and
contributions paid, by whom and when paid, together with a
statement reflecting the disposition of the funds and the total net
income; (6) an affidavit stating whether the organization is
subordinate to a parent organization, and if so, the latter's name.
The ordinances expressly provide that all information furnished
shall be public and subject to the inspection of any interested
party at all reasonable business hours. [Footnote 3
Page 361 U. S. 519
Petitioner Bates was the custodian of the records of the local
branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People in Little Rock, and petitioner Williams was the custodian of
the records of the North Little Rock branch. These local
organizations supplied the two municipalities with all the
information required by the ordinances, except that demanded under
§ 2E of each ordinance, which would have required disclosure of the
names of the organizations' members and contributors. Instead of
furnishing the detailed breakdown required by this section of the
North Little Rock ordinance, the petitioner Williams wrote to the
City Clerk as follows:
Page 361 U. S. 520
"E. The financial statement is as follows:"
January 1, 1957 to December 4, 1957
Total receipts from membership and
Total expenditures . . . . . . . . $183.60
(to National Office)
Secretarial help . . . . . . . . . 5.00
Stationery, stamps, etc. . . . . . 3.00
On Hand. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60.40
"F. I am attaching my affidavit as president indicating that we
are a Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People, a New York Corporation."
"We cannot give you any information with respect to the names
and addresses of our members and contributors or any information
which may lead to the ascertainment of such information. We base
this refusal on the anti-NAACP climate in this state. It is our
good faith and belief that the public disclosure of the names of
our members and contributors might lead to their harassment,
economic reprisals, and even bodily harm. Moreover, even aside from
that possibility, we have been advised by our counsel, and we do so
believe, that the city has no right under the Constitution and laws
of the United States, and under the Constitution and laws of the
State of Arkansas to demand the names and addresses of our members
and contributors. We assert on behalf of the organization and its
members the right to contribute to the NAACP and to seek under its
aegis to accomplish the aims and purposes herein described free
from any restraints or interference from city or state officials.
In addition we assert the right of our
Page 361 U. S. 521
members and contributors to participate in the activities of the
NAACP, anonymously, a right which has been recognized as the basic
right of every American citizen since the founding of this country.
. . ."
A substantially identical written statement was submitted on
behalf of the Little Rock branch of the Association to the Clerk of
After refusing upon further demand to submit the names of the
members of her organization, [Footnote 4
] each petitioner was tried, convicted, and
fined for a violation of the ordinance of her respective
municipality. At the Bates trial, evidence was offered to show that
many former members of the local organization had declined to renew
their membership because of the existence of the ordinance in
question. [Footnote 5
evidence was received in the Williams
Page 361 U. S. 522
trial, [Footnote 6
] as well
as evidence that those who had been publicly identified in the
community as members of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People had been subjected to harassment and
threats of bodily harm. [Footnote
On appeal, the cases were consolidated in the Supreme Court of
Arkansas, and, with two justices dissenting, the convictions were
upheld. 229 Ark. 819, 319
, 43. The court concluded that compulsory disclosure
of the membership lists under the circumstances was "not an
unconstitutional invasion of the freedoms guaranteed . . . ," but
"a mere incident to a permissible legal result." [Footnote 8
] Because of the significant
constitutional question involved, we granted certiorari. 359 U.S.
Like freedom of speech and a free press, the right of peaceable
assembly was considered by the Framers of our Constitution to lie
at the foundation of a government
Page 361 U. S. 523
based upon the consent of an informed citizenry -- a government
dedicated to the establishment of justice and the preservation of
liberty. U.S.Const., Amend. I. And it is now beyond dispute that
freedom of association for the purpose of advancing ideas and
airing grievances is protected by the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by the States. De Jonge v.
Oregon, 299 U. S. 353
299 U. S. 364
NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U. S. 449
357 U. S.
Freedoms such as these are protected not only against
heavy-handed frontal attack, but also from being stifled by more
subtle governmental interference. Grosjean v. American Press
Co., 297 U. S. 233
Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U. S. 105
American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 U.
, 339 U. S. 402
NAACP v. Alabama, supra; Smith v. California, 361 U.
"It is hardly a novel perception that compelled disclosure of
affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute [an]
effective . . . restraint on freedom of association. . . . This
Court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to
associate and privacy in one's associations. . . . Inviolability of
privacy in group association may, in many circumstances, be
indispensable to preservation of freedom of association,
particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs."
NAACP v State of Alabama,
357 U.S. at 357 U. S.
On this record, it sufficiently appears that compulsory
disclosure of the membership lists of the local branches of the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would
work a significant interference with the freedom of association of
their members. [Footnote 9
Page 361 U. S. 524
substantial uncontroverted evidence that public identification
of persons in the community as members of the organizations had
been followed by harassment and threats of bodily harm. There was
also evidence that fear of community hostility and economic
reprisals that would follow public disclosure of the membership
lists had discouraged new members from joining the organizations
and induced former members to withdraw. This repressive effect,
while in part the result of private attitudes and pressures, was
brought to bear only after the exercise of governmental power had
threatened to force disclosure of the members' names. NAACP v.
357 U.S. at 357 U. S. 463
Thus, the threat of substantial government encroachment upon
important and traditional aspects of individual freedom is neither
speculative nor remote.
Decision in this case must finally turn, therefore, on whether
the cities as instrumentalities of the State have demonstrated so
cogent an interest in obtaining and making public the membership
lists of these organizations as to justify the substantial
abridgment of associational freedom which such disclosures will
effect. Where there is a significant encroachment upon personal
liberty, the State may prevail only upon showing a subordinating
interest which is compelling. NAACP v. Alabama,
357 U. S. 449
See also Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U. S.
; Schneider v. New Jersey, 308 U.
; Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U.
, 312 U. S. 574
Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U. S. 105
Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U. S. 158
Kovacs v. Cooper, 336 U. S. 77
It cannot be questioned that the governmental purpose upon which
the municipalities rely is a fundamental one. No power is more
basic to the ultimate purpose and function of government than is
the power to tax. See James v. Dravo Contracting Co.,
302 U. S. 134
302 U. S. 150
Nor can it be doubted that the proper and efficient exercise of
Page 361 U. S. 525
essential governmental power may sometimes entail the
possibility of encroachment upon individual freedom. See United
States v. Kahriger, 345 U. S. 22
Hubbard v. Mellon,
55 App.D.C. 341, 5 F.2d 764.
It was as an adjunct of their power to impose occupational
license taxes that the cities enacted the legislation here in
question. [Footnote 10
governmental action does not automatically become reasonably
related to the achievement of a legitimate and substantial
governmental purpose by mere assertion in the preamble of an
ordinance. When it is shown that state action threatens
significantly to impinge upon constitutionally protected freedom,
it becomes the duty of this Court to determine whether the action
bears a reasonable relationship to the achievement of the
governmental purpose asserted as its justification.
In this record, we can find no relevant correlation between the
power of the municipalities to impose occupational license taxes
and the compulsory disclosure and publication of the membership
lists of the local branches of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People. The occupation license tax
ordinances of the municipalities are squarely aimed at reaching all
the commercial, professional, and business occupations within the
communities. The taxes are not, and, as a matter of state law,
cannot be, based on earnings or income, but upon the nature of the
occupation or enterprise conducted.
Inquiry of organizations within the communities as to the
purpose and nature of their activities would thus appear to be
entirely relevant to enforcement of the ordinances. Such an inquiry
was addressed to these organizations and was answered as
"We are an affiliate of a national organization seeking to
secure for American Negroes their rights as
Page 361 U. S. 526
guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. Our
purposes may best be described by quoting from the Articles of
Incorporation of our National Organization where these purposes are
set forth as:"
"' . . . voluntarily to promote equality of rights and eradicate
caste or race prejudice among the citizens of the United States; to
advance the interest of colored citizens; to secure for them
impartial suffrage; and to increase their opportunities for
securing justice in the courts, education for their children,
employment according to their ability, and complete equality before
the law. To ascertain and publish all facts bearing upon these
subjects and to take any lawful action thereon; together with any
kind and all things which may lawfully be done by a membership
corporation organized under the laws of the State of New York for
the further advancement of these objects.'"
"The Articles of Incorporation hereinabove referred to are on
file in the office of the Secretary of State of the State of
Arkansas. In accord with these purposes and aims, [this] . . .
Branch, NAACP was chartered and organized, and we are seeking to
effectuate these principles within [this municipality]."
The municipalities have not suggested that an activity so
described, even if conducted for profit, would fall within any of
the occupational classifications for which a license is required or
a tax payable. On oral argument, counsel for the City of Little
Rock was unable to relate any activity of these organizations to
which a license tax might attach. [Footnote 11
] And there is nothing in the record to
Page 361 U. S. 527
that a tax claim has ever been asserted against either
organization. If the organizations were to claim the exemption
which the ordinance grants to charitable endeavors, information as
to the specific sources and expenditures of their funds might well
be a subject of relevant inquiry. But there is nothing to show that
any exemption has ever been sought, claimed, or granted -- and
positive evidence in the record to the contrary.
In sum, there is a complete failure in this record to show (1)
that the organizations were engaged in any occupation for which a
license would be required, even if the occupation were conducted
for a profit; (2) that the cities have ever asserted a claim
against the organizations for payment of an occupation license tax;
(3) that the organizations have ever asserted exemption from a tax
imposed by the municipalities, either because of their alleged
nonprofit character or for any other reason.
We conclude that the municipalities have failed to demonstrate a
controlling justification for the deterrence of free association
which compulsory disclosure of the membership lists would cause.
The petitioners cannot be punished for refusing to produce
information which the municipalities could not constitutionally
require. The judgments cannot stand.
Ark.Stat. 1947, § 19-4601.
Little Rock Ord. No. 7444. North Little Rock Ord. No. 1786.
These ordinances have been amended numerous times by adding various
businesses, occupations and professions to be licensed, and by
changing the rates of the taxes imposed.
The pertinent provisions of the ordinances are as follows:
"Whereas, it has been found and determined that certain
organizations within the City . . . have been claiming immunity
from the terms of [the ordinance], governing the payment of
occupation licenses levied for the privilege of doing business
within the city, upon the premise that such organizations are
benevolent, charitable, mutual benefit, fraternal or nonprofit,
"Whereas, many such organizations claiming the occupation
license exemption are mere subterfuges for businesses being
operated for profit which are subject to the occupation license
"Now, Therefore, Be It Ordained by the City Council of the City
. . . :"
"Section 1. The word 'organization' as used herein means any
group of individuals, whether incorporated or unincorporated."
"Section 2. Any organization operating or functioning within the
City . . . including but not limited to civic, fraternal,
political, mutual benefit, legal, medical, trade, or other
organization, upon the request of the Mayor, Alderman, Member of
the Board of Directors, City Clerk, City Collector, or City
Attorney, shall list with the City Clerk the following information
within 15 days after such request is submitted:"
"A. The official name of the organization."
"B. The office, place of business, headquarters or usual meeting
place of such organization."
"C. The officers, agents, servants, employees or representatives
of such organization, and the salaries paid to them."
"D. The purpose or purposes of such organization."
"E. A financial statement of such organization, including dues,
fees, assessments and/or contributions paid, by whom paid, and the
date thereof, together with the statement reflecting the
disposition of such sums, to whom and when paid, together with the
total net income of such organization."
"F. An affidavit by the president or other officiating officer
of the organization stating whether the organization is subordinate
to a parent organization, and if so, the name of the parent
"Section 3. This ordinance shall be cumulative to other
ordinances heretofore passed by the City with reference to
occupation licenses and the collection thereof."
"Section 4. All information obtained pursuant to this ordinance
shall be deemed public and subject to the inspection of any
interested party at all reasonable business hours."
"Section 5. Any section or part of this ordinance declared to be
unconstitutional or void shall not affect the remaining sections of
the ordinance, and to this end the sections or subsections hereof
are declared to be severable."
"Section 6. Any person or organization who shall violate the
provisions of this ordinance shall be deemed guilty of a
misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be fined. . . ."
Section 2E of the ordinances does not explicitly require
submission of membership lists, but, rather, of "dues . . . and/or
contributions paid, by whom paid. . . ." That the effect of this
language was to require submission of the names of all members was
made clear in the supplemental request made by the City Clerk of
North Little Rock to the petitioner Williams:
"At a regular meeting of the North Little Rock City Council held
in the Council Chamber on December 9, 1957, I was instructed to
request a list of the names and addresses of all the officers and
members of the North Little Rock Branch of the NAACP."
"This portion of the questionnaire answered by you on December
4, 1957 did not furnish this information. The above information
must be received not later than December 18, 1957, as requested in
the original questionnaire received by you on December 3,
(In fact, the names of all the officers of the North Little Rock
branch had already been submitted in accordance with § 2C of the
For example, petitioner Bates testified:
"Well, I will say it like this -- for the past five years, I
have been collecting, I guess, 150 to 200 members each year -- just
renewals of the same people. This year, I guess I lost 100 or 150
of those same members because when I went back for renewals they
said, 'Well, we will wait and see what happens in the Bennett
For example, a witness testified:
"Well, the people are afraid to join, afraid to join because the
people -- they don't want their names exposed and they are afraid
their names will be exposed and they might lose their jobs. They
will be intimidated and they are afraid to join. They said, 'Well,
you will have to wait. I can't do It.' They are afraid to give
their -- because they are afraid somebody, if their names are
publicized, then they will lose their jobs or be intimidated or
For example, petitioner Williams testified:
"Well, I have -- we were not able to rest at night or day for
quite a while. We had to have our phone number changed because they
call that day and night and then we -- they have found out the
second phone number, and they did the same way, and they called me
all hours of night over the telephone, and then I had to get a new
number and they have been trying to find out that one, of course. I
would tell them who is talking, and they have throwed stones at my
home. They wrote me -- I got a -- I received a letter threatening
my life, and they threaten my life over the telephone. That is the
The Arkansas Supreme Court construed § 2E of the ordinances as
requiring disclosure "of the membership list." 229 Ark. at ___, 319
S.W.2d at page 41.
The cities do not challenge petitioners' right to raise any
objections or defenses available to their organizations, nor do the
cities challenge the right of the organizations in these
circumstances to assert the individual rights of their members.
Cf. NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U. S. 449
357 U. S.
See note 3
A "catch-all" provision of the Little Rock ordinance imposes an
annual tax upon
"[a]ny person, firm, or corporation within the City . . .
engaging in the business of selling any and all kinds of goods,
wares, and merchandise, whether raw materials or finished products,
or both, from a regularly established place of business maintained
within the City. . . ."
The tax is measured by "the gross value of the average stock
inventory for the preceding year," with a minimum of $25. It was
conceded on oral argument by counsel for the City of Little Rock
that this provision was inapplicable. No brief was filed nor oral
argument made on behalf of the City of North Little Rock.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK and MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, concurring.
We concur in the judgment and substantially with the opinion
because we think the facts show that the ordinances, as here
applied, violate freedom of speech and
Page 361 U. S. 528
assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment which this Court has
many times held was made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth
Amendment, as, for illustration, in Jones v. Opelika,
316 U. S. 584
316 U. S. 600
dissenting opinion adopted by the Court in 319 U. S. 319
103; Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.
, at 319 U. S. 108
Kingsley Intern. Pictures Corp. v. Regents, 360 U.
. And see
cases cited in Speiser v.
Randall, 357 U. S. 513
357 U. S. 529
at 357 U. S. 530
Moreover, we believe, as we indicated in United States v.
Rumely, 345 U. S. 41
345 U. S. 48
345 U. S. 56
(concurring opinion), that First Amendment rights are beyond
abridgment either by legislation that directly restrains their
exercise or by suppression or impairment through harassment,
humiliation, or exposure by government. One of those rights,
freedom of assembly, includes of course freedom of association; and
it is entitled to no less protection than any other First Amendment
right, as NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.
, at 357 U. S. 460
and De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U. S. 353
299 U. S. 363
hold. These are principles applicable to all people under our
Constitution irrespective of their race, color, politics, or
religion. That is, for us, the essence of the present opinion of