Gunn v. University Comm. to End War in Viet Nam

PETITIONER: Lester Gunn, Sheriff of Bell County, Texas et al.
RESPONDENT: University Comm. to End War in Viet Nam
LOCATION: Central Texas College

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: Federal district court

CITATION: 399 US 383 (1970)
ARGUED: Jan 13, 1969 / Jan 14, 1969
REARGUED: Apr 29, 1970 / Apr 30, 1970
DECIDED: Jun 29, 1970

David W. Louisell - For the Appellants
Sam Houston Clinton, Jr. - For the Appellees

Facts of the case

Members of the University Committee to End the War in Viet Nam (Protestors) were protesting at a speech by President Lyndon B. Johnson at Central Texas College in Killeen, Texas. After being attacked by the gathered crowd, the Protestors were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. The Protestors sued and asked that a three-judge panel be convened in the district court to overrule the disturbing-the-peace statute since it violated their First Amendment rights. That court found the statute unconstitutional but stayed the injunction that would prevent enforcement of the statute until the next session of the Texas legislature, so that the legislature might enact a constitutionally permissible statute. However, the Texas legislature did not enact a new statute at its next session, and the court took no further action. Lester Gunn, the local sheriff, appealed directly to the Supreme Court of the United States. Gunn based his appeal on the Three-Judge Court Act, which allows direct appeals to the Supreme Court from orders granting or denying an injunction by a federal court of three judges.


Does the Three-Judge Court Act allow direct appeals to the Supreme Court of the United States when the a district court does not specifically grant or deny an injunction?

Media for Gunn v. University Comm. to End War in Viet Nam

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 1969 in Gunn v. University Comm. to End War in Viet Nam
Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - April 29, 1970 in Gunn v. University Comm. to End War in Viet Nam
Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - April 30, 1970 in Gunn v. University Comm. to End War in Viet Nam

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 13, 1969 in Gunn v. University Comm. to End War in Viet Nam

Earl Warren:

Number 269, Lester Gunn et al., appellants versus University Committee to End the War in Vietnam et al.

Mr. Louisell?

David W. Louisell :

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

Few cases that I have seen in recent years, so much invoke the ancient admonition owe to distinguish the reality of things from the tyranny of labels, or as this Court put it I believe in Trop against Dulles, how simple would be the task of constitution of adjudication if the decision of specific problems were a matter of selecting the labels pasted upon them.

We respectfully submit Your Honors that the court, the three-judge District Court below in the Western District of Texas by seizing upon the label of Dombrowski against Pfister without penetrating through to the context and the meaning in context of that teaching of this Court that the three-judge court has done violence to the realities of the situation as defied logic experience and history and requires reversal.

Now, our facts here Your Honors are from a stipulation between the appellants and the appellees counsel and from the affidavits filed by the individual plaintiffs and the few of their fellow students and the affidavits of the sheriff of Bell County, Texas and his deputies.

That's the source of the facts here, those stipulation and affidavits.

Very briefly on December 12, 1967, just a little more than four years within the shadow of Dallas, the President went to Central Texas College to make a dedicatory speech.

The night before his arrival, the secret service had a conference with the local police officers of the surrounding cities, with the sheriffs of both counties, the land involved here lies in both Bell and Coryell counties had a conference soliciting cooperation in protection of the defendant -- in protection of the president.

On the morning of December 12, the plaintiffs and others, member of the committee, our associates, hearing that this event was going to take place started out from Austin about 60 or 70 miles from Collin and proceeded to the neighborhood of Collin, Texas.

This college is near Collin. Collin serves one of the biggest military reservations in the United States Fort Hood, thousands of troops stationed there, many of them on the way to Vietnam, many of them just returned from Vietnam.

These people at least seven in number and at least in two automobiles proceeded to the area of the college where the president was to speak and when they arrived there, he had begun to speak or was about to begin.

They have their signs, their signs of protest against the war in Vietnam.

Very shortly, almost immediately I think I can say, after their arrival on the scene, violence broke out.

I think I can put in a nutshell the condition of the violence by reference to one item in the evidence, a big burly sergeant was heard to remark, “Let me add them, they'd never seen blood.”

There were 50 cops, their signs were torn to shreds, it was a dangerous situation.

Potter Stewart:

On the basis of those of facts, I have a little difficulty seeing how they fit within the language of the Texas statute appearing on the bottom of page 3 and the top of page -- above page 2 and the top of page 3 of your brief.

David W. Louisell :

That is correct.

I don't see how it was possible.

Of course, we are dealing here with the rural area, a non-lawyer justice of the peace and so forth, how it was possible to concede that that statute would have any application anything that these plaintiffs had been involved in.

Potter Stewart:

Because --

David W. Louisell :

I want to enlarge if I may.

Potter Stewart:

The statute seems to require at least some kind of noise, doesn't it?

David W. Louisell :


It just had nothing to do with this particular statute with any of the facts that the record shows.

Potter Stewart:

It either noise or something it can -- indecent exposure.

David W. Louisell :

That's precisely right.

Potter Stewart:

Or they displaying of a weapon.

David W. Louisell :

Whoever as the statute reads, whoever shall go into or near any public place or into or near any private house and shall use loud and vociferous or obscene vulgar or indecent language, or swear or curse, or yell or shriek, or expose his or her person to another person at the age of 16 years or over.

Another statute of course rules under 16 or rudely display any pistol or deadly weapon in a manner calculated to disturb the person of person's present at such place or house shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $200.00.