Sunday, December 8, 2013

Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham case brief

Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham case brief summary
394 U.S. 147 (1981)

Petitioner minister sought a writ of certiorari from a decision of the Supreme Court of Alabama, affirming his conviction for violating Birmingham, Ala., General Code § 1159, which made it an offense to participate in any parade or procession or other public demonstration without first obtaining a permit from respondent city commission.

On the afternoon of Good Friday, 52 African-Americans were led out of a Birmingham church by three ministers, one of whom was the petitioning minister. They walked in orderly fashion, two abreast, for four blocks, in order to protest the alleged denial of civil rights to African-Americans in the city. The marchers stayed on the sidewalks except at street intersections, did not interfere with other pedestrians or automobiles, and did not disobey traffic signals. The city police stopped the marchers and arrested them for violating Birmingham, Ala., General Code § 1159. The minister was convicted for violating § 1159 and was sentenced to 90 days' imprisonment at hard labor and an additional 48 days at hard labor in default of payment of a $ 75 fine and $ 24 costs.

  • The Court reversed the minister's conviction, holding that the city authorities clearly indicated to the minister that under no circumstances would he and his group be permitted to demonstrate, not that a demonstration would be approved if a time and place were selected that would minimize traffic problems. 
  • It was evident that the ordinance was administered so as to deny or unwarrantedly abridge the right of assembly.
The Court reversed the minister's conviction for violation of the city ordinance, concluding that the city authorities interpreted the statute as giving them the right to deny under any circumstances the minister and his group a permit to demonstrate in the city and that such denial was a deprivation of the constitutionally-protected right of assembly.

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