The Warren Court (1953–69)

Freedom of Expression

What Warren Court decisions involved freedom of assembly or petition during the civil rights movement?

The Warren Court decided many cases that protected the First Amendment rights of those participating in the civil rights movement. The First Amendment provided the constitutional tool by which aggrieved individuals were able to assemble together to protest injustices and petition the government to change such unjust laws. These decisions included:

Garner v. Louisiana (1961): The U.S. Supreme Court reverses the breach-of-peace convictions of several African American students who had engaged in “sit-ins” at restaurants that would serve only white customers.

Edwards v. South Carolina (1963): The U.S. Supreme Court reverses the breach-of-the-peace convictions of 187 African American students who marched on the South Carolina statehouse in Columbia to protest segregation. The students were arrested even though they only sang religious and patriotic songs. The Court wrote that “the Fourteenth Amendment does not permit a state to make criminal the peaceful expression of unpopular views.”

Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham (1965): The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction of civil rights activist Fred Shuttlesworth, who did nothing more than stand on a public sidewalk with several other individuals outside a department store in Birmingham.

Cox v. Louisiana (1965): The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction of a civil rights protester who was punished for leading a group of two thousand persons who picketed across the street from a courthouse to protest the illegal arrest of twenty-three students.

Adderley v. Florida (1966): The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the trespass convictions of thirty-two college students who demonstrated outside a county jail to protest the arrest of some of their classmates.

Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham (1969): The U.S. Supreme Court reverses another conviction of Shuttlesworth for violation of a Birmingham law that made it a crime to participate in a parade or march on city streets without first obtaining a permit.

Gregory v. City of Chicago (1969): The U.S. Supreme Court reverses the disorderly conduct conviction of activist/comedian Dick Gregory, who led a procession down city streets while advocating for school desegregation.


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