Peterson v. City of Greenville

RESPONDENT: City of Greenville
LOCATION: Beaumont Mills

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 373 US 244 (1963)
ARGUED: Nov 06, 1962 / Nov 07, 1962
DECIDED: May 20, 1963

Facts of the case


Media for Peterson v. City of Greenville

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 06, 1962 in Peterson v. City of Greenville

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 07, 1962 in Peterson v. City of Greenville

Earl Warren:

James Richard Peterson et al., Petitioner, versus City of Greenville.

Mr. Snyder you may continue your argument.

Theodore A. Snyder, Jr.:

May it please the Court.

One of the chief issues in this case as well as the other cases which is in the brief before you gentlemen is the question of freedom of speech whether or not these petitioners were exercising any right of freedom of speech when they staged this “sit-in” demonstration.

We submit that they were not.

First, of all in considering the question of freedom of speech, you have to consider where the traditional area for speech in public speaking has taken place in this country and we found on looking at cases that the traditional area of speech where you have people who -- to begin with or not (Inaudible) to speak in detail, as between the associates or friends in a private discussion, is that they have to meet in the public places for that discussion, that is on the streets, in the park, in the places where ordinary people would come together who had something that they wished to talk about.

Then we think it's proper that people should have the freedom to speak to each other and try to convince others of their views when they meet on public places, in a place like that, and we think they have a right go there to try to convince others of their thoughts, of their ideas.

You go a step further, however, when you have a person who wishes to try to convince someone else of his ideas and thoughts when he goes onto that man's private property to do so, and that's what you have in this case.

The petitioners who claimed they were exercising the right of speech had left the traditional area of speech which is out in the public and out in the open and they have gone inside the store where they now seek to speak not to the other public in general, not to someone who may be by chance coming down the street, but where they had seek to speak to the owner or the manager or the operator of these particular premises.

So they have narrowed down in two ways from first, they have moved away from the traditional area of speech.

And second, they have moved in and they have narrowed their desire to speak to a particular person and not to speak to anyone in general or to anyone who may be happened to be present.

Now, they might have that right and we don't deny that they have a right to go to the store, to attempt to speak to the manager, or to anyone that may be there.

They have at least the right to make an attempt to go there and begin a conversation.

But we submit that they do not have a right to stay there and force the person they found there whether he might be the manager or someone else to stay and listen to their ideas.

They have no right to force him to listen to them on his own property when he does not desire to listen to them.

If he does, he takes away from that person his right of speaking himself.

He has no chance to do anything else.

The law even in the public places has, as it's concerning freedom of speech here before, has given the right of the person that he has spoken to either to refuse to listen or to require the person who would speak to move away.

For example, in Cantwell against Connecticut, you had a speech problem with the persons that -- where they would be listeners after they had heard all that they desired to hear, require the speaker to move on.

They moved on themselves to -- because they didn't want to hear anymore and they have that right.

You have the same question in the Doorbell cases where on the grounds of freedom of religion, a person has the right to ring a doorbell to someone, the householder, but the householder is not required to stand there and listen to whatever the speaker may have to say.

He has a right if he does not agree with the person to require him to move on.

He is not required by any measure for freedom of speech to engage in a conversation with that person if he does not desire to and that's what you have in this case, where the manager after he had heard the side of the argument presented to him by the petitioners, didn't desire to negotiate with them, didn't desire to discuss the question with them any further, and he asked them to proceed about their own business somewhere else.

That was his right.

He didn't have to sit there and listen to their demands hour after hour.

When he had told them that, their duty was then to proceed and take their conversation somewhere else.

Arthur J. Goldberg:

Mr. Snyder, would you mind at this point if it doesn't disturb the course of your argument, saying a word about whether -- in connection with whether the manager was operating under his own esteem as were in this area about the propriety of the trial judge's action in refusing to permit Mr. Perry to inquire into the question of whether or not there had been prearrangement with the police to take action in connection with the “sit-in”?

Theodore A. Snyder, Jr.:

I think in that connection Your Honor that the petitioners would have had a right to prove if they could have.

The fact that there was a prearrangement with the police in which the police had directed the store manager or the storeowners to take the course of action that he did.

Arthur J. Goldberg:

Do you think it was foreclosed by this ruling of the trial judge?