Brown v. Louisiana
Annotate this Case
383 U.S. 131 (1966)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Brown v. Louisiana, 383 U.S. 131 (1966)
Brown v. Louisiana
Argued December 6, 1965
Decided February 23, 1966
383 U.S. 131
For the purpose of peaceably protesting the denial of their constitutional right to equal treatment in a public facility, petitioners, five Negroes, entered the public room of a regional library operated on a segregated basis by the Louisiana parishes where they lived and another parish. No one was in the library room except petitioners and the library assistant. Petitioner Brown requested a book. The library assistant, after checking, advised that the library did not have the book, but that she would request it from the State Library and that Brown would be notified upon its receipt. (The book was mailed to him at a later date, with instructions to mail it back or deliver it to the library's "Blue" bookmobile, a facility reserved for Negroes only.) Thereafter the library assistant asked petitioners to leave. But, for the purpose of manifesting silent protest against the library's segregation policy, Brown sat down and the others stood near him. There was no noise or boisterous talking. The branch librarian also asked petitioners to leave, but they remained. In about 10 or 15 minutes from the time petitioners entered the library, the sheriff and deputies arrived, having been forewarned, asked petitioners to leave, and were told that they would not. The sheriff then arrested them. Subsequently, petitioners were convicted for violating the Louisiana breach of the peace statute, which makes it a crime "with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, or under circumstances such that a breach of the peace may be occasioned thereby" to crowd or congregate in a public building and fail or refuse to disperse or move on when ordered to do so by a law enforcement officer or other authorized person.
Held: The decision below is reversed. Pp. 383 U. S. 133-151.
MR. JUSTICE FORTAS, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, concluded that:
1. There is not the slightest evidence to sustain application of the breach of the peace statute to petitioners, since there was nothing to indicate an intent by them to provoke a breach of the peace and there were no circumstances to indicate that such a breach might be occasioned, the demonstration having been peaceful, orderly, and unprovocative, and no patrons having been
present in the library. Petitioners' conduct was considerably less disruptive than in any of the preceding three situations in which this Court invalidated convictions under the same Louisiana statute or its predecessor, Garner v. Louisiana, 36 U. S. 157; Taylor v. Louisiana, 370 U. S. 154; and Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U. S. 536. Pp. 383 U. S. 133-135, 383 U. S. 139-140.
2. The rights of peaceable and orderly protest which petitioners were exercising under the First and Fourteenth Amendments are not confined to verbal expression, but embrace other types of expression, including appropriate silent and reproachful presence, such as petitioners used here. Therefore, even if such action came within the statute, it would have to be held that the statute could not constitutionally reach petitioners' actions in the circumstances of this case. Pp. 383 U. S. 141-142.
3. Regulation of libraries and other public facilities must be reasonable and nondiscriminatory, and may not be used as a pretext for punishing those who exercise their constitutional rights. P. 383 U. S. 143.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN concluded that:
The Louisiana breach of the peace statute is unconstitutional for overbreadth, as this Court held in Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U. S. 536. No intervening limiting construction or legislative revision of the statute, and no circumstance of this case, make that declaration of invalidity any less controlling here. Pp. 383 U. S. 143-150.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE concluded that:
Petitioners' convictions must be reversed, since, on this record, it is shown that they were making only normal and authorized use of the public library by remaining 10 minutes after ordering a book. Pp. 383 U. S. 150-151.