2 minute read

Gompers v. Buck's Stove & Range Company

Testing The Waters

The AFL published its own newspaper, the American Federationist, of which Samuel Gompers was editor (as well as president of the AFL). John Mitchell was AFL vice president and Frank Morrison was manager of circulation for the paper, which had a broad readership of both the public and federation members. Following a labor dispute with Buck's Stove & Range Company over hours of work, workers began a boycott, and the Federationist published the name of Buck's company on "Unfair" and "We Don't Patronize" blacklists.

Buck's filed an action in the trial court for the District of Columbia, alleging, among other things, that Gompers and others had entered into an illegal boycott to restrain Buck's business and had threatened other merchants not to deal with Buck's, causing irreparable damage to its business. After lengthy arguments, the trial court agreed with Buck's and issued a lengthy temporary injunction, prohibiting Gompers and the others from engaging in any boycott " . . . for the purpose of, or tending to, any injury to or interference with the complainant's business." Following additional taking of evidence and hearing arguments, the trial court made the injunction permanent on 23 March 1908. The defendants in that action (Gompers, Mitchell, Morrison, and others) appealed the matter. However, before any appellate decision was rendered, Buck's filed another petition in equity with the trial court, asking the court to find the defendants in the original action guilty of violating the terms of the injunction and to punish them for contempt. The petition cited several examples of speech and editorials, published subsequent to the court's earlier decision, which Buck's believed to be in violation of the anti-boycott injunction. Following a "show cause" order to the defendants, the trial court again agreed with Buck's and found that Gompers, Mitchell, and Morrison had disobeyed the terms of the injunction, and further found them guilty of contempt, sentencing them to several months imprisonment. The defendants again appealed.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the lower court's decision, but made some changes to the language of the injunction. From this, both sides appealed to the Supreme Court. However, again prior to decision, both sides resolved many issues between them, and only Gompers's appeal became part of the Supreme Court's decision. Essentially, the petitioners argued that: (1) they had not been in contempt of the trial court's order; (2) the statements they made or published were not violative of the injunction; and (3) arguendo, even if it appeared that their statements violated the injunction, the trial court could not abridge their freedom of speech or of the press under the First Amendment; therefore, the injunction was invalid and there could be no contempt.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Gompers v. Buck's Stove Range Company - Significance, Historical Backdrop, Testing The Waters, The Court's Analysis, Impact, Unions