Thomas v. Collins
Decided on Jan. 8, 1945; 323 US 516


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Free speech

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does the application in this case of Section 5 of a Texas statute, which regulates labor unions and their activities within Texas, contravene the First Amendment?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Section 5 and 12 of Texas' statute regulating labor unions and their activities require that anyone who wants to solicit members for memberships in specified labor unions must first obtain an organizers' card.

"The appellant, Thomas, is the president of the International Union U.A.W. and a vice president of the C.I.O.... As part of the campaign [to organize employees at a plant at Bay Town, Texas,] a mass meeting was arranged for the evening of September 23... He testified without contradiction that his only object in coming to Houston was to address this meeting... six hours before he was scheduled to speak, Thomas was served with the restraining order and a copy of the fiat [for failure to comply with the statute.]... Upon receiving service, Thomas consulted his attorneys and determined to go ahead with the meeting as planned.

The meeting was orderly and peaceful... As written, the speech did not address the invitation to any specific individual by name or otherwise. But Thomas testified that he added, at the conclusion of the written speech, an oral solicitation of one Pat O'Sullivan, a nonunion man in the audience whom he previously had never seen."

Appellant was ultimately arrested for disobeying the order and the Supreme Court of Texas denied Appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

On appeal the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Texas.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Mr. Lee Pressman, of Washington, D.C., and Ernest Goodman, of Detroit, Mich., for appellant. Mr. Alvin J. Rockwell, of Washington, D.C., for the United States, amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Mr. Fagan Dickson, of Austin, Tex., for appellee.

IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"As a matter of principle a requirement of registration in order to make a public speech would seem generally incompatible with an exercise of the rights of free speech and free assembly. Lawful public assemblies, involving no element of grave and immediate danger to an interest the state is entitled to protect, are not instruments of harm which require previous identification of the speakers. And the right either of workmen or of unions under these conditions to assemble and discuss their own affairs is as fully protected by the Constitution as the right of businessmen, farmers, educators, political party members or others to assemble and discuss their affairs and to enlist the support of others.

We think a requirement that one must register before he undertakes to make a public speech to enlist support for a lawful movement is quite incompatible with the requirements of the First Amendment."

The US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Texas.

Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 4 Con

  • Rutledge, W.Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Jackson, R. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Murphy, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Roberts, O. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Stone, H. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Reed, S. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Frankfurter, F. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Texas; the Supreme Court reversed in a 5-4 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.