Garner v. Louisiana

PETITIONER: John Burrell Garner
RESPONDENT: Louisiana
LOCATION: Sitman’s Drug Store

DOCKET NO.: 26
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 368 US 157 (1961)
GRANTED: Mar 30, 1961
ARGUED: Oct 18, 1961 / Oct 19, 1961
DECIDED: Dec 11, 1961

ADVOCATES:
Jack Greenberg - for the petitioners
John F. Ward, Jr. - for the respondent

Facts of the case

These are three consolidated cases where Caucasian and African American patrons participated in "sit ins" at segregated lunch counters in Baton Rouge Louisiana. Each case the patrons merely sat at lunch counters. They were not asked to leave by the restaurants, but were asked to leave by police officers. When the patrons refused to do so, they were arrested and charged with "disturbing the peace." Under Louisiana law, "disturbing the peace" is defined as violent boisterous or disruptive acts, or any other act that unreasonably disturbs the public. The prosecution did not present any evidence that the patrons were boisterous or disruptive in any way. The individuals were convicted in state court and the state supreme court denied relief.

Question

1. Were the patrons' convictions an unconstitutional enforcement of racial segregation by state power in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

2. Did the patrons' convictions violate due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment because they were based on insufficient evidence and a highly vague statute?

3. Was the patrons' right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment and made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment violated through the convictions for disorderly conduct?

Media for Garner v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 18, 1961 in Garner v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 19, 1961 in Garner v. Louisiana

Earl Warren:

-- Garner et al., Petitioners, versus Louisiana, Number 27 Mary Briscoe et al., Petitioners, versus Louisiana, Number 28, Jannette Hoston et al., Petitioners, versus Louisiana.

Mr. Greenberg, you may continue your arguments.

Felix Frankfurter:

Mr. Greenberg, before you begin your argument, clear up some ignorance I have about Louisiana law.

It was during -- with any one of them, the Briscoe, I haven't had Briscoe record before me, on Page 56, the Supreme Court of Louisiana said, “The Court is without jurisdictions to review facts in criminal cases.”

The copy of the Louisiana Constitution that I (Inaudible) on a surface reading and the reading of the English words denied jurisdiction perhaps the -- perhaps I should ask the Attorney General or the counsel for Louisiana in this case, denied jurisdiction in criminal cases except for death or life sentence and $300 and six months fine, is that right?

Jack Greenberg:

I believe so, sir, yes.

Felix Frankfurter:

Well then, I don't see that it has this jurisdiction with the facts of law in this case, but in the second -- and the second question, perhaps also the Attoney General who can enlightened me on, the case of --

Jack Greenberg:

Well, I --

Felix Frankfurter:

-- am I right about that, Mr. Greenberg?

Jack Greenberg:

Well, I have nearly accepted the statement of the State Supreme Court on those points, Your Honor.

Felix Frankfurter:

Yes.

Jack Greenberg:

I think you --

Felix Frankfurter:

But if you -- if they -- if you see Article 7 Section 10 of Louisiana Constitution of 1921, well, if you go and look at it, I find at least in my copy, I don't (Inaudible) copy that the jurisdiction doesn't exist unless it would be the -- a death or a life sentence or the $300 fine and six months sentence, not potential sentences but actually sentences that have been imposed, you know, so I have trouble with that.

And the second one, am I right that the case of the ruling of the District Judge on matters of law are not erroneous?

Am I right that the case which they cite, Ponchatoula, if that's the way to pronounce it, came up before the Supreme Court on an abstract, what I would call a question whether the statute on its face is unconstitutional?

Jack Greenberg:

That's correct, Your Honor, and they said that the statute was not -- it was city ordinance, it was not unconstitutionally vague in that --

Felix Frankfurter:

They've told that before --

Jack Greenberg:

That's right.

Felix Frankfurter:

Not what's -- what underlying facts there were to that judgment, sentence.

I ask these questions at the outset, because for me, they have great barring upon the course of this decision.

Jack Greenberg:

Yes, sir.

The Ponchatoula decision, as I -- I have it right here.

But as I recall it, certainly, it's just on the face of the city ordinance which was a disorderly conduct.

Felix Frankfurter:

No discussions on the facts because I suppose they were precluded by the constitutional provision which allowed them to review merely questions of law, whether they conceived to the questions of law.

Jack Greenberg:

Well, that's --

Felix Frankfurter:

That's right, isn't it?

Jack Greenberg:

Yes.

Felix Frankfurter:

Alright.

That's the -- I think the Attorney General of the State may have further enlighten it.

Jack Greenberg:

When the Court adjourned yesterday, I was reviewing the record in Number 26, the Garner case.