Thornhill v. Alabama

Facts of the Case

Petitioner, Byron Thornhill, was alleged to have picketed the works of Brown Wood Preserving Company for the purpose of hindering, delaying or interfering with or injuring the Company’s lawful business. § 3448 of the State Code of 1923 considered loitering and picketing as a misdemeanor to be penalized accordingly. As such, Thornhill was charged with and was consequently convicted of the violation of the statute. On appeal, Thornhill asserted that § 3448 was repugnant to the Constitution of the United States in that it deprived him of the right of peaceful assemblage, the right of freedom of speech, and the right to petition for redress. On the other hand, the state contended that the picketer could not complain of the deprivation of any rights but his own, and that the purpose of the challenged statute was the protection of the community from violence and breaches of the peace.


Did the Alabama law violate Thornhill’s right to free expression under the First Amendment?


In an 8-to-1 decision, the Court held that Section 3448 of the Alabama State Code was facially invalid. The Court held that labor relations were not matters of mere local or private concern, and that free discussion concerning labor conditions and industrial disputes was indispensable to the effective and intelligent use of the processes of popular government to shape the destiny of modern industrial society. The Court found that no clear and present danger of destruction of life or property or of breach of the peace was inherent to labor picketing, and thus deserved First Amendment protection.

Case Information

  • Citation: 310 US 88 (1940)
  • Argued: Feb 29, 1940
  • Decided Apr 22, 1940