Garrison v. Louisiana

PETITIONER: Jim Garrison
LOCATION: Criminal District Court, Parish of New Orleans

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: Louisiana Supreme Court

CITATION: 379 US 64 (1964)
ARGUED: Apr 22, 1964
REARGUED: Oct 19, 1964
DECIDED: Nov 23, 1964
GRANTED: Nov 12, 1963

Eberhard P. Deutsch - argued and reargued for the appellant
Jack P. F. Gremillion - Attorney General of Louisiana, argued and reargued for the appellee

Facts of the case

On November 2, 1962, Jim Garrison, the District Attorney for the Parish of New Orleans, held a press conference in which he issued a statement disparaging the judicial conduct of the eight judges of the Parish’s Criminal District Court. He attributed the backlog of pending cases to the judges’ inefficiency, laziness, and excessive vacations. Based on these statements, Garrison was tried and convicted of defamation under the Louisiana Criminal Defamation Statute, and the Supreme Court of Louisiana affirmed. Garrison appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and argued that the statute impermissibly infringed on his First Amendment rights to freedom of expression.


Does the Louisiana Criminal Defamation Statute unconstitutionally infringe on the First Amendment’s protection of the freedom of speech?

Media for Garrison v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 19, 1964 in Garrison v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 1964 in Garrison v. Louisiana

Earl Warren:

Number 4, Garrison -- Jim Garrison, Appellant, versus Louisiana.

Mr. Deutsch.

Eberhard P. Deutsch:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

It will be recalled that the appellant in this case is the District or Prosecuting Attorney for the Parish of Orleans which is coextensive with the City of New Orleans.

That when he took office something over two years ago, he launched an attack on a backlog of criminal cases awarding -- awaiting trial and at the same time embarked on a campaign against commercialized vice in the Bourbon Street district of New Orleans.

That a dispute arose between himself and the judges of the criminal court after he had been in office for sometime as to his use of certain funds for these vice investigation conditions that the judges adapted a rule that five of them would have to concur in approving his vouchers for these expenses as against the statute which provided that any one judge could do it.

That they then, adapted a further rule allowing him no further expenses for that purpose out of this fund that a recently retired judge made a derogatory statement concerning him, which was published in the press that he was asked to -- by reporters if he had any comment to make and in reply, made the statement which is the issue of this criminal proceeding for defamation under the Louisiana Defamation Statute.

He stated that the judges were themselves responsible for the backlog of cases that they were not working, that they were taking excessive vacations, that they were endeavoring specifically to block his investigations of commercialized vice which "raises interesting questions about the racketeer influences on our eight vacation-minded judges".

And this proceeding arose out of that on a petition by the judges to the Attorney General of the State, requesting him to institute criminal proceedings, charges against the appellant under the Louisiana Criminal Defamation Statute.

And on the same day that he did that, the Supreme Court of Louisiana appointed the judge from another district to hear the case.

Trial by jury was denied.

Motion for trial by jury was denied under the Louisiana statute which provides the juries are not to be used in misdemeanor cases, this thing a misdemeanor.

And his place properly presented under the First and Fourteenth Amendments were overruled.

He was found guilty and the judge said if he would be less than frank, if he did not say that the defamatory statement might not have been issued without some provocation and under the mitigating circumstances, as the judge quoted, fine -- levity fine of $1000 or in the alternative, a jail sentence of four months.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Mr. Deutsch, does the jury trial demand predicated on a federal constitutional claim?

Eberhard P. Deutsch:

If -- when it was on the Federal Constitution, yes, because the Louisiana Constitution specifically provides that you may not have a jury in a misdemeanor.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

What I mean in terms, was it?

Eberhard P. Deutsch:

It was -- it was predicated on the Sixth Amendment actually.

It should probably have been predicated on the First and Fourteenth, that's the position we take here.

The Supreme Court of Louisiana did, specifically, passed on the point that it was not necessary to furnish a jury in this case under the First and Fourteenth Amendment.

The Supreme Court of Louisiana affirmed the conviction passing on the specific constitutional issues which had been raised and relying primarily on this Court's opinion in Beauharnais versus Illinois that libelous utterances are not within the area of constitutionally protected speech.

William O. Douglas:

Is the appellant still in office?

Eberhard P. Deutsch:

Yes, sir.

There, the judges and he have made up if that's of any interest, at least six of them.

They're getting along fine now and each --

William O. Douglas:

That doesn't moot this case, doesn't it?

Eberhard P. Deutsch:


Is the calendar situation improved?

Eberhard P. Deutsch:


Is the calendar situation improved?