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Law School Case Brief

Hague et al. v. Committee for Industrial Organization - 307 U.S. 496, 59 S. Ct. 954 (1939)

Rule:

The right of the people peaceably to assemble for the purpose of petitioning Congress for a redress of grievances, or for any thing else connected with the powers or the duties of the national government, is an attribute of national citizenship, and, as such, under the protection of, and guaranteed by, the United States. The very idea of a government, republican in form, implies a right on the part of its citizens to meet peaceably for consultation in respect to public affairs and to petition for a redress of grievances.

Facts:

Respondents, individual citizens, unincorporated labor organizations composed of such citizens, and a membership corporation, brought suit in the United States District Court against petitioners, the Mayor, the Director of Public Safety, and the Chief of Police of Jersey City, New Jersey, and the Board of Commissioners, the governing body of the city. According to respondents, petitioners denied them the right to hold lawful meetings in Jersey City on the ground that they are Communists or Communist organizations. Respondents alleged that the petitioners acted under a street meeting and public assembly ordinance, which were unconstitutional and void for being violative of the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court ruled in favor of the respondents, which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The petitioners sought further appellate review, arguing that the ordinance was not invalid on its face.

Issue:

Was the ordinance that prohibited petitioners from holding lawful meetings invalid on its face?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the ordinance in question, which prohibited public parades or assemblies without a permit, was void on its face because as drafted it allowed for arbitrary suppression of speech. According to the Court, wherever the title of streets and parks may rest, they have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions. Such use of the streets and public places has, from ancient times, been a part of the privileges, immunities, rights, and liberties of citizens. The Court averred that the privilege of a citizen of the United States to use the streets and parks for communication of views on national questions may be regulated in the interest of all. It was not absolute, but relative, and must be exercised in subordination to the general comfort and convenience, and in consonance with peace and good order; but it must not, in the guise of regulation, be abridged or denied.

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