The Warren Court (1953–69)

Freedom of Expression

What decisions regarding the freedom of association also arose out of the civil rights movement?

In two decisions, the Warren Court protected the right of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to freely associate without governmental interference. In NAACP v. Alabama (1958), the Court ruled that the state of Alabama could not compel the NAACP to release its membership list. The Court wrote that “privacy in group association may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.” In NAACP v. Button (1963), the Court struck down a Virginia law that prohibited organizations from seeking out people to file lawsuits. The state had attempted to use the law to prohibit the NAACP from finding persons to be plaintiffs in racial discrimination suits. The Court wrote that the NAACP’s litigation tactics were “modes of expression and association protected by the First Amendment.” The Button case ensured the survival of public interest law firms, which often seek clients to advance certain causes through litigation.


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