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Thornhill v. Alabama


Thornhill was a recognition that President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal reforms, which included the National Labor Relations Act, had made picketing and other public demonstrations a part of the American landscape.

In 1935, in A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corporation v. United States, the Supreme Court struck down the National Industrial Relations Act, an important element in President Franklin Roosevelt's "First" New Deal program of economic and social reforms. Afterward, Roosevelt threatened to "pack" the Court with justices who would help him lift the country out of the Great Depression by supporting his legislative proposals. The court-packing plan did not pass, but it coincided with an about-face in the Court's attitude towards the New Deal.

Nowhere is the Court's re-orientation more apparent than in the area of labor relations. In 1937, with National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., the Court upheld the legitimacy of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the successor to the National Industrial Relations Act. Throughout the 1930s, the Court continued to uphold laws favoring organized labor. Hague v. Committee for Industrial Organization (1939) marked the first time the Supreme Court used the First Amendment to prevent the states from interfering with labor's attempts to organize local workers. Thornhill extended organized labor's First Amendment protections to include picketing.

Byron Thornhill was an employee of the Brown Wood Preserving Company of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. During a strike by a local affiliate of the American Federation of Labor, Thornhill was arrested for picketing in front of the Brown Wood plant. He was charged with violating a state statute outlawing all forms of picketing. After his conviction was upheld on appeal, Thornhill petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review of his case.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Thornhill v. Alabama - Significance, Court Upholds Labor Pickets As Exercise Of Freedom Of Speech, Related Cases