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Shelton v. Tucker

Significance

For the second time in two years, the Court asserted an individual's implicit constitutional right to freedom of association, a right that came under attack in the South as a backlash to the Civil Rights Movement.

Since its beginnings in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has fought for equal rights for African Americans. Founded by both blacks and whites, the NAACP helped end segregation and lobbied for a federal anti-lynching law. In the 1950s, its major victory came with the historic Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which outlawed so-called "separate but equal" schooling. The NAACP's legal successes and its prominence in the Civil Rights Movement made it a target for Southerners who opposed racial equality.

In 1958, the state of Alabama took the NAACP to court after the organization refused to turn over its membership list. Making the list public, the NAACP said, would endanger its members, jobs or physical safety. The Supreme Court, in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama (1958) unanimously agreed with the NAACP, ruling that its members had a constitutional right of association. This right was implied in the First Amendment's right to freedom of assembly, and was protected from state attack by the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. This decision marked the first time the Court acknowledged this right.

The NAACP ruling, however, did not stop the attempts to single out members of that civil rights group. In 1958, Arkansas passed Article 10, a law affecting state teachers. The act said that every teacher who worked at a state-supported school or college had to list every group they had belonged or contributed money to during the previous five years. They would have to fill out a similar affidavit every year as a condition of their employment--Arkansas did not have tenure for its teachers, so a teacher's contract was reviewed every year. In the past, laws asking about organizational ties were designed to ferret out Communists or their sympathizers, but Act 10 was specifically designed to identify teachers affiliated with the NAACP.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Shelton v. Tucker - Significance, Three Teachers Refuse To Comply, Other Naacp Cases, Further Readings