Harrison v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

RESPONDENT: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
LOCATION: S.S. Guadalupe

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 360 US 167 (1959)
ARGUED: Mar 23, 1959 / Mar 24, 1959
DECIDED: Jun 08, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for Harrison v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 23, 1959 in Harrison v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 24, 1959 in Harrison v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Earl Warren:

127, Albertis S. Harrison, Jr., Attorney General of Virginia, et al., Appellants, versus National Association For The Advancement Of Colored People, et al.

Mr. Gravatt, you may continue with your argument.

J. Segar Gravatt:

Mr. Chief Justice, if the Court please.

I do not think it's necessary to refer further to the principles supporting the doctrine of equitable abstention contended for by the appellants here.

On yesterday afternoon when we can -- when the Court adjourned, Mr. Justice Douglas asked me a question which I confess I did not understand sir, but I gather that it indicated a desire that we go into a discussion of the statutes involving themselves and I think that --

William O. Douglas:

I -- I was just wondering to -- whether the statute applied just to NAACP, whether it was a general statute, whether it would apply to other organizations, associations, bar -- bar association groups and so on?

J. Segar Gravatt:

There are three statutes and with your consent sir, I will -- would like to discuss all three of them with that in view and with the other aspects of the statutes in mind.

The first statute here is referred to the in the record as Chapter 31 of the extra session 1956.

Its principle provision is as follows, no person shall engage in the solicitation of funds from the public or any segment thereof when such funds will be used in whole or in part to commence or to prosecute further any original proceeding unless such person is a party or unless he has pecuniary right or liability in -- therein.

Or shall any person extend on this from whatever source received to commence or to prosecute further any original proceeding unless such person is a party or has a pecuniary right or liability therein until any person shall first, and then this -- the second section begins which requires the information.

The information required of a corporation and this is substantially the same information that is required of the second registration statute which I have mentioned, which is Chapter 32.

Certified copy of the charter articles of agreement, association bylaws or other document creating, governing or regulating the operation of the partnership, corporation, association if not on record, in the office of State Corporation Commission.

A list of the names and addresses of the officers, directors stockholders, members, agents, and employees or other person acting for or in behalf of such partnership, corporation or association.

(C) A certified statement showing the source of each and every contribution, membership fee, dues payment or other item of income or other revenue of such partnership, corporation, or association during the preceding calendar year, if required by the State Corporation Commission, the name and address of each and every person or corporation or association making any donation or contribution.

A certified statement showing in detail by each transaction, the expanded interest of such partnership, corporation, or association on the preceding calendar year, during the preceding calendar year the objects will fit -- which made it and have the information routed thereto, required by a State Corporation Commission.

And a certified statement showing the location of each office or branch of such partnership, association, corporation or association in the counties and cities in which it proposes to or does finance or maintain litigation to which it is not a party.

The statute, if the Court please, undertakes to regulate two things, one is the solicitation and expenditure of funds from the public for the purpose defined.

The purpose defined is the use of solicitation of money to prosecute and maintain litigation in which the party or the corporation has no personal interest, no direct personal pecuniary liability or interest.

So that there are two propositions involved in a consideration of the constitutionality of the statute.

In the first place, I believe that this Court will recognize the fact that in a number of cases that have -- has -- have come before the Court where there have been raised a question of registration and those statutes have been construed to apply the limit freedom of speech, I refer particularly to Thomas against Collins, Cantwell against Connecticut is another of those cases.

In each of those opinions and in the case of Murdock against Pennsylvania, this Court has indicated rather clearly that it did not undertake to pass the question of the right of the State to regulate solicitation of funds from the public.

So that you have here a question that so far as I know this Court has not as yet passed upon and the indication from the opinions that I have mentioned to you are -- that the Court has indicated that there is certainly an area in which that regulation is justified.

Now, the second thing that is dealt with in the statute is the use -- that the money as they put to, that is, that it is money that's been solicited to finance litigation in the courts.

There are many reasons why that aspect of this statute should require a consideration by the courts of the State of Virginia before it comes here for this Court to pass upon.

In the first place, the lower court has already referred two of these statutes to the state court namely Chapters 33 and 36.

Chapter 36 deals directly in particular with this aspect of the statute namely the proper construction of a provision in the statutes that runs through several of them, prohibiting the expenditure of money to finance litigation to which a person is not a party.

So that if the Court were to -- the lower court, if the decision of the lower court and this Court takes jurisdiction of this matter upon its merit, to pass on the constitutional issues, you may immediately be confronted with a construction in the state court of a companion statute that must be construed, entire materials with these provisions which would be a construction that would relieve the Court of the responsibility of meeting the constitutional issue, or that if I put a constitutional interpretation upon the statute which would be different from the interpretation which had been applied to it by the lower court.

Felix Frankfurter:

What was the basis of differentiation by the lower court as between 36 and the others?

J. Segar Gravatt:

It was -- that was -- very brief in his opinion, if Your Honor please, and he just -- he criticized the statute but say for -- in Chapter 6 -- 36, and I am reading from the opinion of the lower court, the majority opinion at page 119 of the record.

In Chapter 36 a significant language to be construed relates to inducing one to act in the giving of advice by one whose professional advice has not been sought in accordance with the canons of legal ethics.