Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee

PETITIONER: Theodore R. Gibson
RESPONDENT: Florida Legislative Investigation Committee
LOCATION: Florida General Assembly

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

CITATION: 372 US 539 (1963)
ARGUED: Dec 05, 1961
REARGUED: Oct 10, 1962 / Oct 11, 1962
DECIDED: Mar 25, 1963

Mark R. Hawes - argued and reargued for the respondent
Robert L. Carter - argued and reargued for the petitioner

Facts of the case

In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) received much criticism from state legislators as it pushed ahead with litigation to combat segregation. The State of Florida, in 1959, established a Legislative Investigation Committee to study what were called "subversive organizations." Gibson, president of the Miami branch of the NAACP, was subpoenaed before the committee and asked to produce a membership list of his organization. He refused and was found in contempt.


Did the Florida Committee, in attempting to inform itself about activities of subversive organizations, violate Gibson's right to free speech and association as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments?

Media for Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 11, 1962 in Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 1961 in Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 10, 1962 in Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee

Earl Warren:

Number 6, Theodore R. Gibson, versus Florida Legislative Investigation Committee.

Mr. Carter.

Robert L. Carter:

Mr. Chief Justice, and members of the Court.

In this case, we're asking the Court to review the constitutional validity of a contempt conviction of petitioner with who has been adjudged in the contempt of court and sentenced to six months imprisonment, $400 fine and six months additional if the fine is not paid, for his refusal to abide by a court order which would require him to bring before the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, the respondents here, to verify his answers as to their questions about alleged communists who were supposedly be members of the petitioner's organization which happens to be the minor branch of the NAACP.

Petitioner contends that in his basis refusal to submit to the order of the Court and to the order of the committee contends that this matter was foreclosed by NAACP versus Alabama.

And that for this reason, that the order of the court below which would require him not to give up the entire membership list or to authenticate his answers by reference thereto is in substance a -- or cannot be sustained for -- on the grounds of the theory of this Court in the NAACP versus Alabama.

For that reason, he has refused to submit to this and the -- his conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Florida and this matter has been brought here.

We have set out in our brief, this -- for this Court on page 2, the law under which the Investigation Committee Acts.

It is investigating by the -- in Florida, the activities of organizations and the persons engaged in act of violence or advocating a course of conduct which would constitute a violation of Florida law.

Pursuant to this, the -- there was an investigation of the activities of the National Association for the Advancement Colored People in Florida.

The present Act before the Court is Chapter 59-207 of the laws of Florida of 1959 by the transcendence or statute which was enacted in 1956 and this committee was organized.

The committee was reconstituted in 1957 and reestablished in 1959 and I believe Mr. Hawes can verify this that the committee as -- was reestablished in the 1961 legislature.

Now, in our judgment, what the -- what was occurred in the -- before the committee on November the 5th and 4th -- and the 5th, of 1959, was that the petitioner who was the custodian of the membership list of the Miami organization, was called before the committee and before he testified, there was a testimony of an investigator for the committee who indicated that there were some 14 persons will be named who he indicated that he knew or believed to be members of the Communist Party and also members of the Miami branch of the NAACP.

The petitioner himself was called and was asked as to whether he would -- was prepared to be brought -- had he brought a membership list to be required, he had not -- wasn't prepared to answer questions concerning the identification or association of those persons with the organization.

This he refused to do.

He indicated to the committee that he would answer any questions from his own knowledge as to the membership of the alleged communists, the 14 persons' name with the organization but refuse to bring the association's membership list to verify his answers.

On the next day, a -- and this is -- I think this is an important issue or fact here because our contentions will be in this case that there must be some predicate for the inquiry.

The next day --

William O. Douglas:

Some what to the (Voice Overlap) --

Robert L. Carter:

Some predicate, some basis for making the inquiry of the Court -- and the committee, we submit must justify the fact that it is making this kind of inquiry of this organization must have some facts upon which it can predicate a belief.

We believe that there is subversion is going on that these -- it is infiltrated by subversion.

Potter Stewart:

Your point that without a showing of that, this petitioner needn't have done even as much as he did, he could have refused to answer anything, is that it?

Robert L. Carter:

That's right.

Byron R. White:

Do you mean, do you mean there was inadequate proof that any of -- for example the 14 names, really were communists or were active communists?

Robert L. Carter:

We think that there is no proof in this record which would be sufficient to establish; one -- and although we don't have to make this contention but we think the record is clear, one, as to whether those persons were in fact members of the Communist Party and two, as to whether they were members of the NAACP and the -- on the hearing, under the Court --

Byron R. White:

Well, that -- the absence of both of those is, what you mean by the lack of predicate --

Robert L. Carter:

Yes sir.

Byron R. White:

-- that's what it amounts to, not having a predicate?

Robert L. Carter:

Yes, sir.

Byron R. White:

Something else amounts to that?