National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Button

PETITIONER: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
LOCATION: James Wah Toy’s Laundry

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

CITATION: 371 US 415 (1963)
ARGUED: Nov 08, 1961
REARGUED: Oct 09, 1962
DECIDED: Jan 14, 1963

Henry T. Wickham - for the respondent
Robert L. Carter - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

The NAACP was prosecuted for violating a Virginia statute which banned "the improper solicitation of any legal or professional business."


Did the law, as applied to the NAACP's activities, violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments?

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

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 09, 1962 in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Button

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 08, 1961 in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Button

Earl Warren:

Number 41 -- or Number 44, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Petitioner, versus Fredrick T. Gray, Attorney General of Virginia.

Mr. Carter.

Robert L. Carter:

As we understand the issue in this case which I will attempt to set out at the outset, is whether petitioner who is engaged in a course -- a regular course of conduct of attempting to educate the public in respect to issues of racial discrimination and which encourages Negroes to assert their constitutional rights and which holds itself out as being an agency which will aid if these -- if persons come forward to assert these rights in the courts, in aiding to -- in helping provide counsel, paying counsel fees and costs.

And whether the attorneys, the lawyers who are associated with petitioner in these efforts and which handle cases of this kind, whether they, both petitioners and the lawyers, can be found guilty of illegal conduct and barred from these activities under state law.

We contend that the State has no interest to protect, in this regard, has no power to make such activity illegal and we contend that in doing so, as the Supreme Court of Appeals has held in construing the statute which is now before the Court, that the construction of the statute violates due process and equal protection of the laws.

The case arose in this fashion on -- in 1956, at an extra session of the General Assembly of Virginia.

The statute which is now here before the Court, and which we allege is unconstitutional, was enacted along with some five or six other statutes which petitioner charges were Anti-NAACP statutes and several statutes and laws dealing explicitly with the issue of school desegregation.

These were passed, and this was a part of the State's massive resistance plan as they called it to desegregation in Virginia.

Petitioner, feeling that these statutes were designed to destroy it as an agent as -- in its activities in Virginia, brought suit in the federal court against five statutes, I think two of them dealt with legislative investigation committees and these we could not -- we did not feel we could attack, but the prior statute would -- they were charged with being unconstitutional in the federal court.

In the federal court, three of the statutes were struck down and two of the statutes were considered too vague for interpretation. And as the Court knows, on appeal here, the three statutes that the Court had struck down, but that judgment was vacated and remanded on the ground that the -- both statutes at the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia should've been given an opportunity to construe the statute before the federal court acted.

We are now dealing with the -- with one of the two statutes which was not before the Court in NAACP versus Harrison which --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Just out of curiosity, Mr. Carter, what's happened to those three? Are they back before the Virginia Court?

Robert L. Carter:

Yes, sir.

They are now pending before the Court of the City of Richmond at the present time.

Two of the -- the other two statutes were not touched and these are the -- one of these is the statutes we're dealing with at the present time.

Petitioner brought action in the state court pursuant to the instructions of the court, attacking the validity of these two statutes, and I will now only deal with one of them, the instant statute because as you know, the second statute, Chapter 36, was struck down.

So that I will talk from now on as if only one statute was involved in this instance.

There's no need to advert at all to Chapter 36.

The petitioner took the view that the instant statute, one, did not apply to its activities or the activities of any other counsel associated with it, and asked for a construction of the statute to that effect.

If the statute were construed as applying to its activities or the activities of counsel who are associated with it, petitioner took the view that the statute was unconstitutional and should be struck down.

The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the statute and held that it applied to petitioner's activities and that in fact, the record disclosed on the basis of the record that petitioner was in fact engaged in what they call the illegal fomenting and starting up of litigation and the solicitation of legal business in violation of Chapter 33 and that counsel who were -- who took cases with knowledge that they were being financed by petitioner was also guilty of malpractice and should -- will be subject to disbarment.

The statute itself is set out on pages 2 to 5 of the -- of our brief in chief, and the italicized sections of the statute are the new matter which had been added in the 1956 session.

This statute had been codified as it had been in existence sometime before.

Ordinary statutes like -- which I've -- they call it running and capping, but I think it's -- we can, at least I will use the term bar --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Mr. Carter, what's capping?

What's capping?

I never heard that expression.

Robert L. Carter:

I think -- I have never heard of it either but I gather, from the description that what it means is that a person, an agent of an attorney is a runner to secure business for him and running and capping.

I don't -- other than the running, I don't understand what the rest of it means.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

In my state, we call the man who is chasing, is that what it is?