Robson The First Amendment
This chapter considers election and campaign finance cases, including
the right to be anonymous, campaign finance, and judicial elections.
Robson The First Amendment
Is there a First Amendment right to be anonymous? Is it especially
pertinent to political contexts?
357 U.S. 449 (1958)
JUSTICE HARLAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE UNANIMOUS COURT.
We review from the standpoint of its validity under the Federal Constitution a
judgment of civil contempt entered against petitioner, the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP] in the courts of Alabama. The
question presented is whether Alabama, consistently with the Due Process
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, can compel petitioner to reveal to the
State's Attorney General the names and addresses of all its Alabama members
and agents, without regard to their positions or functions in the Association.
The judgment of contempt was based upon petitioner's refusal to comply fully
with a court order requiring in part the production of membership lists.
Petitioner's claim is that the order, in the circumstances shown by this record,
violated rights assured to petitioner and its members under the Constitution.
Alabama has a statute similar to those of many other States which requires a
foreign corporation, except as exempted, to qualify before doing business by
filing its corporate charter with the Secretary of State and designating a place of
business and an agent to receive service of process. The statute imposes a fine
on a corporation transacting intrastate business before qualifying and provides
for criminal prosecution of officers of such a corporation. Ala. Code, 1940, Tit.
10, 192-198. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is
a nonprofit membership corporation organized under the laws of New York. Its
purposes, fostered on a nationwide basis, are those indicated by its name,† and
it operates through chartered affiliates which are independent unincorporated
associations, with membership therein equivalent to membership in petitioner.
The first Alabama affiliates were chartered in 1918. Since that time the aims of
the Association have been advanced through activities of its affiliates, and in
1951 the Association itself opened a regional office in Alabama, at which it
employed two supervisory persons and one clerical worker. The Association has
never complied with the qualification statute, from which it considered itself
In 1956 the Attorney General of Alabama brought an equity suit in the State
Circuit Court, Montgomery County, to enjoin the Association from conducting
further activities within, and to oust it from, the State. Among other things the
bill in equity alleged that the Association had opened a regional office and had
†"The Certificate of Incorporation of the Association provides that its ". . . principal objects . . . are voluntarily
to promote equality of rights and eradicate caste or race prejudice among the citizens of the United States; to
advance the interest of colored citizens; to secure for them impartial suffrage; and to increase their
opportunities for securing justice in the courts, education for their children, employment according to their
ability, and complete equality before the law.”"
Robson The First Amendment
organized various affiliates in Alabama; had recruited members and solicited
contributions within the State; had given financial support and furnished legal
assistance to Negro students seeking admission to the state university; and had
supported a Negro boycott of the bus lines in Montgomery to compel the seating
of passengers without regard to race. The bill recited that the Association, by
continuing to do business in Alabama without complying with the qualification
statute, was ". . . causing irreparable injury to the property and civil rights of
the residents and citizens of the State of Alabama for which criminal
prosecution and civil actions at law afford no adequate relief . . . ." On the day
the complaint was filed, the Circuit Court issued ex parte an order restraining
the Association, pendente lite, from engaging in further activities within the
State and forbidding it to take any steps to qualify itself to do business therein.
Petitioner demurred to the allegations of the bill and moved to dissolve the
restraining order. It contended that its activities did not subject it to the
qualification requirements of the statute and that in any event what the State
sought to accomplish by its suit would violate rights to freedom of speech and
assembly guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of
the United States. Before the date set for a hearing on this motion, the State
moved for the production of a large number of the Association's records and
papers, including bank statements, leases, deeds, and records containing the
names and addresses of all Alabama "members" and "agents" of the Association.
It alleged that all such documents were necessary for adequate preparation for
the hearing, in view of petitioner's denial of the conduct of intrastate business
within the meaning of the qualification statute. Over petitioner's objections, the
court ordered the production of a substantial part of the requested records,
including the membership lists, and postponed the hearing on the restraining
order to a date later than the time ordered for production.
Thereafter petitioner filed its answer to the bill in equity. It admitted its
Alabama activities substantially as alleged in the complaint and that it had not
qualified to do business in the State. Although still disclaiming the statute's
application to it, petitioner offered to qualify if the bar from qualification made
part of the restraining order were lifted, and it submitted with the answer an
executed set of the forms required by the statute. However petitioner did not
comply with the production order, and for this failure was adjudged in civil
contempt and fined $10,000. The contempt judgment provided that the fine
would be subject to reduction or remission if compliance were forthcoming
within five days but otherwise would be increased to $100,000.
At the end of the five-day period petitioner produced substantially all the data
called for by the production order except its membership lists, as to which it
contended that Alabama could not constitutionally compel disclosure, and
moved to modify or vacate the contempt judgment, or stay its execution pending
appellate review. This motion was denied. While a similar stay application,
which was later denied, was pending before the Supreme Court of Alabama, the
Circuit Court made a further order adjudging petitioner in continuing contempt
and increasing the fine already imposed to $100,000. Under Alabama law the
effect of the contempt adjudication was to foreclose petitioner from obtaining a
hearing on the merits of the underlying ouster action, or from taking any steps