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First Amendment Research Information

Court Cases - Right to Peaceably Assemble
Contains synopses and discussion on many important cases on the right to assemble.


Court Cases

United States v. Cruikshank (1876)
The Supreme Court said that 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 and 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 high court applied the liberty only to any federal government's encroachment.

De Jonge v. Oregon (1937)
De Jonge was convicted for conducting a public meeting under the auspices of the Communist Party. De Jonge had not advocated any illegal activity or criminal doctrine. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction as unnecessarily restrictive of his freedom of speech and right of peaceable assembly. The high court's ruling applied the right of peaceable assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. And put these rights on equal footing with freedom of speech and the press. "[P]eaceable assembly for lawful discussion cannot be made a crime. The holding of meetings for peaceable political action cannot be proscribed."

Hague v. C.I.O. (1939)
The high court ruled that peaceful demonstrators may not be prosecuted for "disorderly conduct." This case also secured streets and sidewalks as public forums.

Thornhill v. Alabama (1940)
The Supreme Court held that orderly union picketing that informs the public of the issues is protected by the constitutional freedom of speech and of the press and the right of peaceable assembly and cannot be prosecuted under state loitering and picketing laws.

Cox v. New Hampshire (1941)
A unanimous Supreme Court upheld a local (Manchester) ordinance that required every parade or procession on a public street to obtain a license for a fee. Jehovah's Witnesses had brought the suit alleging that the city of Manchester had denied their religious freedom. The court was clear that ordinance had to be reasonable and designed for the safe and orderly use of the streets.

Edwards v. South Carolina (1963)
In an 8-to-1 decision the high court overturned the breach of the peace convictions of 180 black students who had peacefully marched to the state capitol to protest discrimination. The police stopped the demonstration and arrested the students because they were afraid that the 200-300 who gathered to watch the demonstration might cause a riot. The court held the state law unconstitutionally overbroad because it penalized the exercise of free speech, peaceable assembly, and the right of petition for a redress of grievances. A disorderly crowd, or the fear of one, cannot be used to stop a peaceful demonstration or cancel the right of peaceable assembly.

Cox v. Louisiana (1965)
Rev. B. Elton Cox was arrested and convicted for breach of the peace in Baton Rouge, La., for leading a demonstation of 2,000 black college students from the state capitol to the courthouse to protest the jailing of 23 other students for attempting to integrate white lunch counters. The high court overturned his conviction, 7-to-2, and held the state's breach of the peace law overly broad.
Amalgamated Food Employee's Union v. Logan Valley Plaza (1968)
Concerning the legality of peaceful picketing on privately owned grounds.

Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)
Concerning the assembly of a Klu Klux Klan group.

Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham (1969)

Bachellor v. Maryland (1970)

Flower v. United States (1972)

Central Hardware Co. v. NLRB (1972)

Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner (1972)

Police Department of Chicago v. Mosely (1972)
Concerning picketing at any school involved in labor disputes.

Grayned v. Rockford (1972)

Clark v. Community for Creative Nonviolence, 468 U.S. 288 (1984)
Concerning sleeping in connection with protests.

Boos v. Barry, 485 U.S. 312 (1988)
Concerning the limits of protest in front of a foreign embassy.