NAACP v. State of Alabama ex rel Patterson
357 U.S. 449 (1958)
Patterson (the Attorney
General of Alabama) was tired of having the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), stir up trouble in his State. Relying
on an Alabama law that required foreign corporations to qualify before
doing business in Alabama, Patterson charged that the NAACP 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."
In this context, 'foreign'
means 'out-of-State', not a foreign country.
The Trial Court issued an
order restraining the NAACP from operating in Alabama until such time as
they could qualify as a foreign corporation.
...or when hell freezes
During the proceedings to
fight the order, the Trial Court required NAACP to provide a list of all
of their members in Alabama. NAACP refused, and was cited for contempt.
NAACP attempted to get a
hearing on whether they were required to turn over their membership lists,
but the Alabama courts refused to hear the case while NAACP was still
under a contempt citation.
Basically, they wanted NAACP
to turn over their lists first, then decide whether they had been
required to do so.
The case made its way to the
US Supreme Court three times(!) and each time the US Supreme Court ordered
Alabama to hear the merits of the case, and Alabama refused. Finally, the
US Supreme Court granted itself jurisdiction to hear the case directly.
The US Supreme Court found the
The US Supreme Court found
that there is a right of free association contained in the 1st Amendment.
"Immunity from state
scrutiny of petitioner's membership lists is here so related to the
right of petitioner's members to pursue their lawful private interests
privately and to associate freely with others in doing so as to come
within the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment"
The Court recognized that
freedom to associate with organizations dedicated to the
"advancement of beliefs and ideas" is an inseparable part of
the Due Process Clause of the 14th
The Court found that giving
Alabama a membership list would likely interfere with the free
association of the members of the
The Court performed a
balancing test and found that the constitutional rights of the members
outweighed the State interests in obtaining the records.
The idea behind keeping
membership lists private is that it would have a chilling effect on free
association if people didn't join groups because they were worried that
they might be subject to persecution or harassment if it was known what
groups they belonged to.
The one exception to this
rule is campaign donations. Even though it is acknowledged that people
might be less likely to make contributions to candidates if it was made
public, the compelling government interest in stopping bribery and corruption outweighs the right to free
See Buckley v. Valeo (424 U.S. 1 (1976)).
One interesting thing to note
is that the Court has consistently and without controversy found that
there is an implicit right of association in the Constitution, even though it is not explicitly stated in
the text. However, there is much debate as to whether the Constitution
also implicitly contains a right to privacy.
See Griswold v.
Connecticut (381 U.S. 479 (1965)).