Fields v. Fairfield

LOCATION: Alabama State Capitol

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 375 US 248 (1963)
ARGUED: Dec 10, 1963 / Dec 11, 1963
DECIDED: Dec 16, 1963

Facts of the case


Media for Fields v. Fairfield

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 10, 1963 in Fields v. Fairfield

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 11, 1963 in Fields v. Fairfield

Earl Warren:

Edward R. Fields, et al., versus City of Mayfield or Fairfield.

Mr. Wulf, you may continue your argument.

Melvin L. Wulf:

Thank you, sir.

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

On the facts of this case as I related them yesterday, the question that's presented to the Court now for its decision is whether the appellants' plain right to exercise and enjoy their First Amendment rights of speech and assembly can be suppressed in advance by an injunction, the worst kind of prior restraint.

We think it begs the question to talk about this case in terms of the Mine Workers case which was the ostensible basis for the Alabama Supreme Court's injunction decision and we think that it also begs the question to talk about it in terms of the concepts that have flowed from the Mine Workers case such as the jurisdiction -- to determine jurisdiction, void orders, substance of void orders, frivolous void orders and all the rest.

We think these are all irrelevant where First Amendment rights are asserted.

Arthur J. Goldberg:

Is that beyond limitation for them (Inaudible) not with your case but what do you think of (Inaudible) limitation under the jurisdiction?

Melvin L. Wulf:

I think that very little is left under the case, Your Honor.

The rule of law that we urge the Court to adopt in this case is that essentially, that the First Amendment simply will not tolerate injunctions against political speech and political assembly.

Now, in the way this case comes up to this Court, it comes in a novel context.

And although it is novel in this case, in -- at this stage of our history, I think it's safe to say that there's been a proliferation of the use of injunctions of this sort, temporary restraining orders against speech and that other cases that raise the same question promised to come before this Court.

Now, I think the facts of this case dramatically -- excuse me -- demonstrate why the rule that we urge can and ought to be adopted by this Court.

The injunction which the appellants are held to have violated and of which they were convicted was based on three local ordinances of the City of Fairfield and we can discuss this very quickly, I think.

Two of them, together, constituted a flat prohibition against the distribution of leaflets, handbills and any other kind of literature in the public streets and in the -- all the public portions of the City of Fairfield.

This wasn't a permit requirement which would be unconstitutional on its face as well, this was a flat prohibition and Lovell v. Griffin, Jamison, Talley, all of them, together, make this ordinance unconstitutional on its face indisputably.

The other ordinance that was -- that which -- which was the basis for the injunction in this case was one that required a permit from the mayor in order to hold a public meeting.

Now, this ordinance, based on the (Inaudible) in Kansas also unconstitutional on its face, clearly so.

It has no standards in it as those two cases require, nor have any judicial standards been imported into the case, so it is unconstitutional on its face.

Moreover, it's unconstitutional as applied in this case because it was applied not against the meeting that was to be held in a public street or in a public park.

It was applied against the meeting that was to be held in a private hall in Fairfield, private hall that had no connection at all with the -- with the municipality.

And we assert that the State or local municipality has no power whatsoever to require that a permit be applied for before any individual or any group seeks to hold a meeting in a private auditorium.

Although the context is different, it is as if somebody who wanted to hold the political meeting in Carnegie Hall would have to ask for permit from the Mayor of the City of New York or from the police commissioner, I think it's unthinkable.

So, the three ordinances that are involved in this case and which were the basis for the injunction or I think without dispute unconstitutional on their faces.

The appellee seems to have conceded this and the Government's amicus curiae makes this -- grants likewise.

We then come to the injunction which was based on these three indisputably unconstitutional ordinances and I suggest that on the basis of Near versus Minnesota particularly and from other sound constitutional principles from cases in which the questions of reason and been articulated by this Court that it necessarily follows that speech, that political speech, political assembly cannot be enjoined in advance.

If any description at all can describe the effect of such an injunction on speech, I think that it must be described as the most pernicious kind of prior restraint and this Court has condemned prior restraints over and over again.

Now, this isn't a -- an abstract right that is the right to be able to speech freely without prior restraints because as this Court has said and as many people have recognized over and over again, speech and assembly in our nation is the very foundation of the nation.

It is upon the right of speech and assembly that all of our political activity rests.

It is upon speech and assembly that the determinations about how society is to be ordered rests and if political speech and political assembly can be enjoined in advance, then I fear that the very firm foundation of the First Amendment will be seriously weakened.