Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham

PETITIONER: Shuttlesworth
RESPONDENT: City of Birmingham
LOCATION: Beaumont Mills

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 373 US 262 (1963)
ARGUED: Nov 06, 1962 / Nov 07, 1962
DECIDED: May 20, 1963

Facts of the case


Media for Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 06, 1962 in Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham

Earl Warren:

Number 67, F. L. Shuttlesworth et al.

Petitioners, versus City of Birmingham.

Ms. Motley, you may proceed with your argument.

Constance Baker Motley:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

In this case, the petitioners are two Negro ministers here on the grant of certiorari by this Court to review their convictions by the Alabama State Courts on a charge of inciting, aiding or abetting for violation of the trespass after warning ordinance which we have just discussed as a basis of the convictions of these students in the preceding case.

Now, the ordinance in this case also appears on page 2 of our brief.

It is a very strong ordinance which reads, “it shall be unlawful for any person to incite or aid or abet in the violation of any law or city ordinance or any provision of state law, the violation of which is a misdemeanor.”

Now, the records on which the state seeks to sustain these convictions, contained only the testimony of a Birmingham City detective, and this detective did not himself personally witness any of the facts to which he testified on this trial.

He was present in the Recorder's Court when these petitioners in this case were on trial and he testified in the Circuit Court on the new trial as to what he heard other witnesses say in the lower court.

Now, the entire testimony in the record in this case is very brief.

The first petitioner is Reverend Shuttlesworth.

Now, the testimony as to what Reverend Shuttlesworth did, the detective said, was that Gober and Davis, petitioners of the preceding case, testified that they took part in the sit-in demonstrations on March 31st, 1960.

And that they went to Reverend Shuttlesworth's house the preceding evening and discussed sit-in demonstrations.

Reverend Shuttlesworth was present, his wife was present, and several others students were present and the second petitioner in this case, Reverend Billups was present.

At this discussion, somebody prepared a list.

Now, who prepared it or what the list was, the record does not show.

The only other thing the record shows is that Reverend Shuttlesworth asked for volunteers and at one point said or announced, that he would get them out of jail.

Now, on that testimony, Reverend Shuttlesworth has been sentenced to 180 days at hard labor and a fine of $100.

Now, the testimony as to Reverend Billups, the other defendant -- or the other petitioner in this case, Davis one of the students in the preceding case reportedly testified that Reverend Billups picked him up on the campus of Daniel Payne College which Davis attends and drove him to Reverend Shuttlesworth's house and that Reverend Billups was present during the discussion.

What Reverend Billups said does not appear in the record at all.

From the record, it appears and he said, absolutely nothing and on that evidence, Reverend Billups has been sentenced to 30 days at hard labor plus a $25 fine.

Now we say first, that these convictions must be reversed because the record is devoid of any evidence to support a conviction that these petitioners urge the violation of any valid law of the City of Birmingham.

What they were urging was a sit-in demonstration.

Now, in order for this Court to find that what they were urging was a violation of some valid law of the City of Birmingham, it seems to me that this Court would have to find that a sit-in per se, as the court below finds, is a violation of law.

Now, as the prior decisions of this Court show, a sit-in per se is not an unlawful activity.

In the Garner case and in many state court cases, these convictions have been reversed or the petitioners have not been convicted and their cases have been dismissed, so that to urge somebody to participate in a sit-in demonstration is not itself a violation of any valid law.

Hugo L. Black:

Why wouldn't it be in your judgment?

Constance Baker Motley:

Because all they're urging is a protest against, in this case state enforced segregation and I think we have a right to protest against state enforced segregation.

Byron R. White:

By opinion?

Constance Baker Motley:

Yes, this is a method of communication.