Walker v. City of Birmingham

RESPONDENT: City of Birmingham
LOCATION: Birmingham City Council


CITATION: 388 US 307 (1967)
ARGUED: Mar 13, 1967 / Mar 14, 1967
DECIDED: Jun 12, 1967

Facts of the case

Civil rights activists who planned to march on Good Friday and Easter were denied parade permits from the city. When they indicated their intention to march anyway, Birmingham obtained an injunction from a state court which ordered them to refrain from demonstrating. Marchers who defied the order, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, were arrested.


Did the injunction violate the First Amendment?

Media for Walker v. City of Birmingham

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 14, 1967 in Walker v. City of Birmingham

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 13, 1967 in Walker v. City of Birmingham

Earl Warren:

Number 249, Wyatt Tee Walker et al., Petitioners, versus City of Birmingham, etcetera.

Mr. Greenberg.

Jack Greenberg:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case is here on petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Alabama.

It involves a wide-range of constitutional issues which include the following questions.

First, the constitutional validity of a parade permit ordinance, second, the constitutionality of the administration of that ordinance, and then the question of the admissibility of evidence to establish the mode of this administration.

The validity of an injunction which embodies that ordinance in toto and requires parties to refrain from a lengthy enumerated series of lawful acts, the applicability of the so-called Mine Workers rule, that is the question of whether one may litigate first in the Alabama courts, and second in this Court, the validity of a permit ordinance and the validity of the injunction and the action for contempt, the constitutionality of the finding of contempt based upon statements by petitioners expressing outrage at the issuance of the injunction.

And the validity of a finding of contempt against certain petitioners against -- on whom the papers had not been served.

Which one of those questions do you think is the master question in this case?

Jack Greenberg:

Well, we would submit the master question in this case is the constitutionality of the permit ordinance because we would say thereby the injunction falls and because of the nature of the First Amendment questions involved in this type when it affects one's speech, the so-called Mine Workers rule does not apply and we have -- there are reasons in state law where the Mine Workers rule does not apply also.

But I was about to say Mr. Justice Harlan that while it would be impossible to discuss within 30 minutes -- because it will be impossible to discuss within 30 minutes all of these issues, all of which are rather serious, I planned to focus upon -- but one or two of them.

And in view of the fact that the United States in an amicus brief has addressed its attention exclusively to the so-called Mine Workers problem and the position in their brief is the same as ours.

I do not plan to discuss that question, although I would of course be happy to answer questions concerning it, if the Court has any.

The issues arise out of incidents --

Abe Fortas:

Well, may I ask you then if you don't mind, the -- as I remember the Government's brief -- they say that -- perhaps I am mis -- I don't want to misrepresent their view but I think they -- I had the impression that they said that this case should be regarded as an exception to the Mine Workers doctrine, would you phrase it that way?

Jack Greenberg:

Well, I might.

I would say that the Mine Workers doctrine was not to or was never intended to apply to a situation like this that indeed the Mine Workers doctrine --

Abe Fortas:

Why, because it's First Amendment?

Jack Greenberg:

Well, not only because it's First Amendment, because of the circumstances in which it arose because of the nature of the prior restraint haven't -- of the injunction having been issued just within a very brief period of time before the march was supposed to commenced because of the --

Abe Fortas:

You mean it'd be -- would be unfair, do you mean it'd be unfair to invoke the Mine Workers doctrine here?

As I understand it, the Government's brief and the reason I asked you about the Government's brief is that you seem to indicate that there was an identity views.

But as I understand the Government's brief as to the effect that -- if you apply Mine Workers here, then the contempt order is valid and that you have to work out some kind of an exception, the Mine Workers that this is not the type of injunction or not the type of situation in which Mine Workers should apply?

Jack Greenberg:

Mr. Justice Fortas, I think that we face -- we might just posit two-types of situations, and one in which is there's merely a permit ordinance on the books and there is an interest in regularity of enforcement, an interest in perhaps applying and attempting to obtain a permit under that ordinance.

Yet this Court has recognized in numerous cases that if that cont -- ordinance is unconstitutional on its face whereas applied one may violate it with impunity.

On the other hand, we might posit a situation in which we might assume that injunctions ought to be obeyed until they are litigated and disposed of on the injunction rather than on the contempt.

Abe Fortas:

Well, that's what Mine Workers says.

Jack Greenberg:


I would say this is a hybrid situation in which the injunction embodies in toto the ordinance and merely transforms the mode of its enforcement from ordinary criminal misdemeanor proceedings to contempt proceedings and we would argue that it falls in the permit ordinance type category of cases rather than the other.

Now if you want to call it an exception, that's possible but I think --

Abe Fortas:

In toto (Voice Overlap) --