Ala. Code § 3448 (1923) is invalid on its face. The freedom of speech and of the press guaranteed by the Constitution embraces at the least the liberty to discuss publicly and truthfully all matters of public concern without previous restraint or fear of subsequent punishment. Freedom of discussion, if it would fulfill its historic function in the United States, must embrace all issues about which information is needed or appropriate to enable the members of society to cope with the exigencies of their period.
Petitioner, Byron Thornhill, was alleged to have picketed the works of Brown Wood Preserving Company for the purpose of hindering, delaying or interfering with or injuring the Company’s lawful business. § 3448 of the State Code of 1923 considered loitering and picketing as a misdemeanor to be penalized accordingly. As such, Thornhill was charged with and was consequently convicted of the violation of the statute. On appeal, Thornhill asserted that § 3448 was repugnant to the Constitution of the United States in that it deprived him of "the right of peaceful assemblage," "the right of freedom of speech," and "the right to petition for redress. On the other hand, the state contended that the picketer could not complain of the deprivation of any rights but his own, and that the purpose of the challenged statute was the protection of the community from violence and breaches of the peace.
Was § 3448 of the State Code of 1923 unconstitutional?
The Court ruled that § 3448 of the State Code of 1923 was invalid on its face. The Court held that the freedom of speech and of the press guaranteed by the Constitution embraced the liberty to disseminate information concerning the facts of a labor dispute. The Court found the danger of injury to an industrial concern was neither so serious nor so imminent as to justify the sweeping proscription of freedom of discussion embodied in § 3448. The court further found that the danger of breach of the peace at the scene of a labor dispute was not sufficiently imminent to warrant the range of activities outlawed by § 3448, and those activities could have been enlightening to the public on the nature and causes of a labor dispute.