NAACP v. State of Alabama ex rel Patterson
357 U.S. 449 (1958)

  • Patterson (the Attorney General of Alabama) was tired of having the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), stir up trouble in his State. Relying on an Alabama law that required foreign corporations to qualify before doing business in Alabama, Patterson charged that the NAACP was “causing irreparable injury to the property and civil rights of the residents and citizens of the State of Alabama for which criminal prosecution and civil actions at law afford no adequate relief.”
    • In this context, ‘foreign’ means ‘out-of-State’, not a foreign country.
  • The Trial Court issued an order restraining the NAACP from operating in Alabama until such time as they could qualify as a foreign corporation.
    • …or when hell freezes over…
  • During the proceedings to fight the order, the Trial Court required NAACP to provide a list of all of their members in Alabama. NAACP refused, and was cited for contempt.
  • NAACP attempted to get a hearing on whether they were required to turn over their membership lists, but the Alabama courts refused to hear the case while NAACP was still under a contempt citation.
    • Basically, they wanted NAACP to turn over their lists first, then decide whether they had been required to do so.
  • The case made its way to the US Supreme Court three times(!) and each time the US Supreme Court ordered Alabama to hear the merits of the case, and Alabama refused. Finally, the US Supreme Court granted itself jurisdiction to hear the case directly.
  • The US Supreme Court found the NAACP.
    • The US Supreme Court found that there is a right of free association contained in the 1st Amendment.
      • “Immunity from state scrutiny of petitioner’s membership lists is here so related to the right of petitioner’s members to pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in doing so as to come within the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment”
      • The Court recognized that freedom to associate with organizations dedicated to the “advancement of beliefs and ideas” is an inseparable part of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.
    • The Court found that giving Alabama a membership list would likely interfere with the free association of the members of the NAACP.
      • The Court performed a balancing test and found that the constitutional rights of the members outweighed the State interests in obtaining the records.
  • The idea behind keeping membership lists private is that it would have a chilling effect on free association if people didn’t join groups because they were worried that they might be subject to persecution or harassment if it was known what groups they belonged to.
    • The one exception to this rule is campaign donations. Even though it is acknowledged that people might be less likely to make contributions to candidates if it was made public, the compelling government interest in stopping bribery and corruption outweighs the right to free association.
      • See Buckley v. Valeo (424 U.S. 1 (1976)).
  • One interesting thing to note is that the Court has consistently and without controversy found that there is an implicit right of association in the Constitution, even though it is not explicitly stated in the text. However, there is much debate as to whether the Constitution also implicitly contains a right to privacy.
    • See Griswold v. Connecticut (381 U.S. 479 (1965)).