National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama ex rel. Flowers

PETITIONER: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
RESPONDENT: Alabama ex rel. Richmond M. Flowers, Attorney General
LOCATION: NAACP Alabama State Conference

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 377 US 288 (1964)
ARGUED: Mar 24, 1964
DECIDED: Jun 01, 1964
GRANTED: Oct 14, 1963

Gordon Madison - for the respondent
Robert L. Carter - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

In 1956, the Attorney General of Alabama, John M. Patterson, filed suit against the NAACP, a New York corporation advocating for equal rights for black Americans. He filed the action as an attempt to oust the association from the state. The claim alleged that the NAACP failed to comply with Alabama statutes requiring foreign corporations to register with the Alabama Secretary of State, along with other acts more clearly related to the NAACP’s political mission. That same day, the Attorney General obtained a restraining order barring the NAACP from conducting business in the state or attempting to comply with the statutory requirements in question. Before the case was heard on the merits, the court found the NAACP to be in contempt, in part for failing to comply with a court order requiring the NAACP to produce records.

The Supreme Court of Alabama dismissed the NAACP’s petition for a writ of certiorari. On appeal, the Supreme Court of the United States held that requiring the NAACP to produce records including names and addresses of its members was a violation of those members’ freedom of association. The Supreme Court of Alabama, however, again affirmed the judgment of contempt, arguing that the Supreme Court’s judgment rested on the mistaken premise that Alabama had incorrectly interpreted its own procedural rules. The Supreme Court of the United States again remanded the case in a per curiam opinion, holding that the NAACP had satisfied the district court’s order even though the NAACP did not produce the membership lists.

The NAACP then filed an action in federal court, alleging that the Alabama courts were depriving the organization of its constitutional rights and seeking to enjoin enforcement of the trial court’s restraining order. The district court dismissed the action, but the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded to the district court, instructing the district court to retain jurisdiction only if Alabama state courts did not promptly try the NAACP’s case. The Supreme Court of the United States then ordered the district court to try the NAACP’s case unless the State of Alabama gave the NAACP a hearing before January 2, 1962. In December 1961, an Alabama circuit court decreed that the NAACP continued its activities in Alabama in violation of the laws and constitution of Alabama. The Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed.


1. Was the NAACP properly barred from obtaining a hearing in Alabama courts because its brief did not conform to the rules of the Supreme Court of Alabama?

2. Was this a state question barring federal review?

3. Did Alabama properly enjoin the NAACP from acting in Alabama because the NAACP failed to comply with statutory requirements for foreign corporations?

4. Did Alabama properly enjoin the NAACP from acting in Alabama because its political activities violated Alabama law?

Media for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama ex rel. Flowers

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 24, 1964 (Part 1) in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama ex rel. Flowers

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 24, 1964 (Part 2) in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama ex rel. Flowers

Robert L. Carter:

I have just a few remarks if I may and I'd like to say this to Mr. Justice Stewart, the question about Title 10.

But I should have in answer to your question about its construction indicated to you that the Supreme Court of -- of Alabama has already construed the statute in the way that we suggest.

This is in (Inaudible) versus Cleveland Motor Company case which it has given the construction of the statute that is merely a genuine -- at least genuine service of process statute.

The motion for rehearing which is set out on page 213 as all of the assignment of errors really or assignments of errors are in fact the restatement of the -- all the allegations which have set -- set or which have been set out there.

And the question to Mr. Justice Black asked about the application of the rules as to whether they were discretionary.

We have set out in -- in our main brief at page 29, a list of cases which we think will support our -- our contention that there has been a departure from these rules and that the Supreme Court of Alabama does indicate that that the rules have not been complied with -- that they will go through the merits anyway.

One point I'll finally -- the record of -- the entire record is in the -- is in the clerk's office and that insofar as the Attorney General's office is concerned that in our brief, we argue, our brief was devoted almost entirely to the merits of this cause.

We filed our brief here first and we would want to point out to the Court that if there was concern in the Attorney General about meeting the argument on -- on the merits, that they had the opportunity at that time.

Byron R. White:

Mr. Carter, assuming for the moment that the Alabama rule at the court below ap -- applied, was it valid, acceptable -- acceptable state grounds for doing what it is, then what matters are here on the merits?


Robert L. Carter:


Byron R. White:

Except fully the -- the proposition that the -- that the rule below that -- quite a proper rule and insulates something anyway from review here.Is there anything left there for review here on the merits?

Robert L. Carter:

Well, I would think that the -- all of the -- I would say first that all of the assignment of errors, we have filed the assignments of error, we made them a part of our motion for rehearing and therefore presented them to the court below and the court below disposed of them in trial court.

We made and put them in a form of assignments of error and presented them to the -- to the court of -- to the Supreme Court of Alabama.

The -- now, I would say that all of them -- but certainly, where the Court indicates that the assignment that we have made about the sufficiency of the weight of the evidence which is the questions that you were addressing to Mr. Madison and indicates that these are without merits.

I think that we would be in a position to argue that those have to be here because merit must mean merit.

I don't know what it means other than that.

Byron R. White:

Well, the trouble is -- of course the trouble with my point on the specific ones I raised was it -- was it within those assignments of error, no federal question was raised.

It's true that the -- that the -- the assignment didn't say the sufficiency of the evidence that -- and the Supreme Court perhaps passed on the merits of that -- that point.

But it didn't have to construe them in federal issue.

Robert L. Carter:

I would --

Byron R. White:

That was reviewable here.

Robert L. Carter:

I would think Your -- Your Honor that -- doesn't that bring us into the case of Thompson versus Louisville?

Byron R. White:

Well, that -- that -- It just doesn't have to be worded that way.That's all, that assignment of error.

It --

Robert L. Carter:

But --

Byron R. White:

-- certainly -- there was another assignment of error raised the point.

Robert L. Carter:

But -- but if we argue -- we say that the decree below is -- is not accorded with the weight of the evidence.

And -- and as a matter of fact, that you find that it's not.

It seems to -- it seems to me that under the -- under the doctrine of Thompson versus Louisville and Wright versus Georgia, I think this Court -- this -- this is a due process question as to whether there is a sufficient ground upon which the decree could be sustained.