Cox v. Louisiana

LOCATION: United States Post Office and Courthouse

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 379 US 536 (1965)
ARGUED: Oct 21, 1964
DECIDED: Jan 18, 1965

Facts of the case

On December 14, 1961, the Baton Rouge police arrested 23 members of the Congress of Racial Equality ("CORE") on a charge of illegal picketing. In response B. Elton Cox, a leading member of CORE, and others planned to march through parts of Baton Rouge, LA, ending with a demonstration at the courthouse. An estimated 1,500 to 3,800 protesters demonstrated during the hearings of the 23 jailed members.

Baton Rouge Police Chief Wingate White confronted the protestors when they arrived at the courthouse, telling them that they must confine the demonstration "to the west side of the street" within a designated period of time. After the group began their demonstration, a sheriff ordered them to disperse. Officers then forcibly dispersed the demonstration and arrested several demonstrators, including Cox.

Cox was charged under Louisiana Revised Statute 14:401, which specifically prohibited "pickets or parades in or near a building housing a court of the State of Louisiana." He was given the maximum fine of $5,000 and sentenced to one year in jail. The Supreme Court of Louisiana unanimously upheld his conviction and wrote that the statute rightfully protects the justice system from threats or intimidation, and that the term "near" is not unconstitutionally vague."


Did the state of Louisiana violate due process under the Fourteenth Amendment when it arrested Cox for picketing approximately 101 feet from a courthouse?

Does the Louisiana statute prohibiting picketing "near" a courthouse violate the Constitution's protection of free speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments?

Media for Cox v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 21, 1964 in Cox v. Louisiana

Earl Warren:

Number 24, B. Elton Cox, Appellant, versus Louisiana.

Mr. Rachlin.

Carl Rachlin:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

We appeal from two convictions in Number 24 and one in Number 49.

However, we have submitted consolidated -- a consolidated brief in those three situations.

In 24, we appeal from a -- in affirmance of a conviction pursuant to Louisiana Revised Statute 14.100.1 obstructing the sidewalks and -- for which Cox received a sentence of five months, $500 or an additional five months in lieu thereof.

In addition, we appeal under 14.103.1 for breach of the peace for which Cox received four months, $200 or an additional four months.

Both 24 and 49 arise from a single incident, a single demonstration which I will attempt to describe in a moment, and the same facts are available to all three convictions.

Other aspects of this very same case have previously been before this Court.

In Clem -- excuse me, in Clemmons against CORE, where this Court denied certiorari, 375 U.S. 992, the same factual basis was involved precisely except there was another issue and this Court has previously denied cert -- but the facts apply precisely to this case.

That was (Inaudible)?

Carl Rachlin:

No, that was Moore against Louisiana Your Honor, which the facts there would -- took place a short while before the events about -- of which I'm about to describe.

However, Clemmons against CORE, it is exactly the same facts, nothing different whatsoever.

We appealed and this Court noted probable cause.

On December 14th, 1961, 23 youngsters were arrested for peaceful picketing in downtown Baton Rouge.

The purpose of that picketing was to protest against the discrimination of Negroes and the segregation of Negroes.

On December 15th, Southern University students, and Southern University is a few miles outside of the City of Baton Rouge, began a -- to hold a demonstration and decided to make a protest against the arrest of these 23 and to protest the segregation and discrimination that existed in Baton Rouge at the time by coming in to Baton Rouge to point out their protest, and by various means some on foot, some by auto, some by bus.

They arrived a couple of blocks from the scene of the incidence which we are concerned with here.

And approx -- at some point shortly or about noon time of that day, they were met by the Chief of Police, Mr. Wingate White, and by the Sheriff, Mr. Clemmons of Clemmons against CORE and by the mayor and one or two others.

Mr. Cox at this point, the appellant here, met these honored gentlemen and they discussed the event that was about to take place.

And Cox advised them they were going to have some songs, some prayers and he would make a short speech.

He was directed to hold his demonstration on the west side of the street, approximately 103 feet from the courthouse and on the opposite side of the sidewalk from -- adjourned the courthouse.

And this meeting then went on.

Pursuant to his instructions by the Chief of Police and the Sheriff to meet on the west side, that is the side away from the Court.

At this very moment of course, the 2000 people approximately, were visible to the police and to the Sheriff and to the mayor and everybody knew it was approximately noon time.

So the question of the time, the place and the numbers were known to everybody and in a sense a contract, if you will permit me to use the word.

Byron R. White:

Do you think that the meeting with the Sheriff about how long they'd be permitted there?

Carl Rachlin:

Yes, it was agreed it will be a short meeting.

Byron R. White:

Well --

Carl Rachlin:

Some -- this -- there were some dispute in the facts whether it was going to last seven minutes or whether it was going to last about 17 or 19 minutes but the --