On this day in 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision that banned the NAACP from operating in the state of Alabama. NAACP v. Alabama was the famous case in which the Supreme Court recognized the freedom of association as a First Amendment-protected right.
While the First Amendment guarantees protection of religion, speech, press, and assembly, it does not specifically mention freedom as association as a right that cannot be taken away.
Legal observers argue that just as a person has the right to express his or her opinions, they also have the right to associate with others who share the same views.
Alabama Attorney General John Patterson claimed that the NAACP had harmed residents of Alabama by promoting the Montgomery Bus Boycott, among other campaigns. Patterson filed the lawsuit against the NAACP in 1956. He believed that the negative publicity that went along with these events in the national news, the state’s reputation had been damaged.
Patterson claimed that the NAACP’s actions in Alabama were illegal because the organization did not meet the basic requirements for operating a business in the state.
The Alabama Supreme Court refused twice to review the lower court decision, so the U.S. Supreme Court took on the case. The NAACP was required to produce records of their organization within a 5-day period. They complied, but they refused to hand over their membership list. Because
Justice John Marshall Harlan II declared, “This Court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations. . . .”
He continued to explain the practical effect of mandating organizations to disclose their membership lists. He stated that making known an organization’s members in the past just led to “economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and other manifestations of physical hostility.”
For the next five years, several more appeals were filed to the Supreme Court in order to determine the legality of the NAACP operating in Alabama.
The contempt order was overturned, as was the $100,000 fine against NAACP.