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U.S. Supreme Court

Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539 (1963)

Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee

No. 6

Argued December 5, 1961

Restored to the calendar for reargument April 2, 1962

Reargued October 10-11, 1962

Decided March 25, 1963

372 U.S. 539


In a Florida State Court, petitioner, who was president of the Miami Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was adjudged in contempt and sentenced to fine and imprisonment for refusing to divulge contents of the membership records of that Branch to a committee created by the Florida Legislature, which was investigating the infiltration of Communists into various organizations. There was no suggestion that the Association or its Miami Branch was a subversive organization, or that either was Communist dominated or influenced. The purpose of the questions asked petitioner was to ascertain whether 14 persons previously identified as Communists or members of Communist front or affiliated organizations were members of the Miami Branch of the Association. The principal evidence relied upon to show any relationship between the Association and subversive or Communist activities was indirect, ambiguous, and mostly hearsay testimony by two witnesses that, in years past, those 14 persons had attended occasional meetings of the Miami Branch of the Association "and/or" were members of that Branch, which had about 1,000 members.

Held: on the record in this case, petitioner's conviction of contempt for refusal to divulge information contained in the membership lists of the Association violated rights of association protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 372 U. S. 540-558.

1. When, as in this case, the claim is made that a legislative investigation intrudes upon First and Fourteenth Amendment associational rights of individuals, the State must show convincingly a substantial relation between the information sought and a subject of overriding and compelling state interest. Pp. 372 U. S. 543-546.

2. Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U. S. 109; Wilkinson v. United States, 365 U. S. 399; Braden v. United States, 365 U. S. 431; and Uphaus v. Wyman, 360 U. S. 72, distinguished. Pp. 372 U. S. 547-550.

Page 372 U. S. 540

3. An adequate foundation for inquiry must be laid before a legislative investigation proceeds in such a manner as will substantially intrude upon and severely curtail or inhibit constitutionally protected associational rights, and the record in this case is not sufficient to show a substantial connection between the Miami Branch of the Association and Communist activities, or to demonstrate a compelling and subordinating state interest necessary to sustain the State's right to inquire into the membership lists of the Association. Pp. 372 U. S. 550-557.

4. Groups which themselves are neither engaged in subversive or other illegal or improper activities nor demonstrated to have any substantial connections with such activities must be protected in their rights of free and private association guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 372 U. S. 557-558.

126 So.2d 129, reversed.

Page 372 U. S. 541

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