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Hague v. Committee for Industrial Organization

Justices Uphold A Right Of Access To Public Places

The seven justices who participated in deciding Hague agreed that the ordinance was unconstitutional and the injunction should be upheld, although they disagreed about the reasons for doing so. After Justice Butler announced the decision of the Court, Justices Roberts and Stone delivered the two main concurring opinions. Justice Roberts saw the public areas where the committee members wished to gather as public forums protected by the First Amendment. The right to assemble there and freely discuss whatever they wished was, he reasoned, among the privileges extended to citizens by the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment:

Although it has been held that the Fourteenth Amendment created no rights in citizens of the United States, but merely secured existing rights against state abridgment, it is clear that the right to peaceably assemble and discuss these topics, and to communicate respecting them, whether orally or in writing, is a privilege inherent in citizenship of the United States which the Amendment protects.

Justice Stone, while agreeing that the ordinance violated constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and association, located those guarantees elsewhere in the Fourteenth Amendment:

It has been explicitly and repeatedly affirmed by this Court, without a dissenting voice, that freedom of speech and of assembly for any lawful purpose are rights of personal liberty secured to all persons, without regard to citizenship, by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Justice Stone's broader view of freedom of speech and assembly as extending to all, regardless of citizenship status, would later be adopted by the Court as a whole. Hague also had the effect of providing organized labor with constitutional protection for the first time. It served as a deterrent to public officials accustomed to exercising their power arbitrarily or in a deliberately discriminatory fashion. Perhaps most importantly, this decision marked the first time that the First Amendment was used to prevent government suppression of expressive activity rather than merely to prevent criminal prosecution for such activity after the fact. In the aftermath of the decision, public areas such as streets and parks were universally recognized as arenas for the free exchange of ideas, regardless of the political content of those ideas.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Hague v. Committee for Industrial Organization - Significance, Justices Uphold A Right Of Access To Public Places