WALKER V. CITY OF BIRMINGHAM, 388 U. S. 307 (1967)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Walker v. City of Birmingham, 388 U.S. 307 (1967)

Walker v. City of Birmingham

No. 249

Argued March 13-14, 1967

Decided June 12, 1967

388 U.S. 307


On April 10, 1963, a temporary injunction was issued by an Alabama circuit court judge, pursuant to a bill of complaint filed by Birmingham officials, enjoining petitioners from participating in or encouraging mass street parades without a permit as required by city ordinance. The bill and accompanying affidavits stated that demonstrations, parades, and picketing had been engaged in by petitioners for the preceding seven days, and were expected to continue. Some of the petitioners, who had been served with copies of the writ the next morning, held a press conference and announced their intention to disobey the injunction. No permit to parade was then or thereafter requested, but parades were held on April 12, Good Friday, and April 14, Easter Sunday. At a contempt hearing, petitioners sought to attack the constitutionality of the injunction on the ground that it was vague, overbroad, and restrained free speech. They also sought to attack the parade ordinance on a similar ground and on the basis that it had been administered in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner. The circuit judge refused to consider these contentions, stating that there had been no motion to dissolve the injunction or any effort to comply with it by applying for a parade permit. The court held that the only issues were whether it had jurisdiction to issue the injunction and whether petitioners had knowingly violated it. Petitioners were found guilty, and the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed.

Held: Petitioners could not bypass orderly judicial review of the temporary injunction before disobeying it. Howat v. Kansas, 258 U. S. 181. Pp. 388 U. S. 314-320.

(a) The state court that issued the injunction had, as a court of equity, jurisdiction over petitioners and over the subject matter of the controversy. P. 388 U. S. 315.

(b) The injunction was consistent with the strong interest of the city government in regulating the use of its streets and other public places. Pp. 388 U. S. 315-316.

(c) While the generality of language in the parade ordinance would raise substantial constitutional issues, petitioners did not apply to the courts for an authoritative construction which might

Page 388 U. S. 308

have given the licensing authority granted in the ordinance a narrow and precise scope. As in Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U. S. 569, and Poulos v. New Hampshire, 345 U. S. 395, it cannot be assumed that the ordinance is void on its face. Pp. 388 U. S. 316-317.

(d) The breadth and vagueness of the injunction itself would be subject to constitutional question, but the way to raise that question was to apply to the state courts to have the injunction modified or dissolved. P. 388 U. S. 317.

(e) Even if the parade ordinance on which the injunction was based had been previously administered in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner, it does not follow that the ordinance is void on its face. Petitioners did not apply for a parade permit after issuance of the injunction, the claimed arbitrary refusal of which would have been considered by the state court upon a motion to dissolve the injunction. Pp. 388 U. S. 317-318.

(f) The rule of law which the Alabama courts relied on was firmly established by precedents which put petitioners on notice that they could not bypass orderly judicial review of the injunction before disobeying it. P. 388 U. S. 319.

279 Ala. 53, 181 So.2d 493, affirmed.

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