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Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm

    Brief Fact Summary. The Florida legislature suspected members of the local NAACP branch of being Communists and unsuccessfully demanded a membership list. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) held that the request for the membership list violated the NAACP members’ rights of association.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. It is an essential prerequisite to the validity of an investigation which intrudes into the area of constitutionally protected rights of speech, press, association and petition that the state convincingly show a substantial relation between the information sought and a subject of overriding and compelling state interest. The First Amendment applies even where the challenged privacy is that of persons espousing beliefs already unpopular with their neighbors.

    Facts. The Florida legislature suspected members of the local NAACP branch of being Communists and unsuccessfully demanded a membership list. The Petitioner, Mr. Gibson (Petitioner), president of the local NAACP branch was ordered by the court to bring records pertaining to the identity of the NAACP members and contributors. Relying on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (Constitution), he chose not to furnish the records and opted to answer questions about members based on personal knowledge. The prosecutors gave him names of members previously identified as being Communists. He testified that none of them were members of the NAACP branch. For his failure to produce the records, the state court found him in contempt and sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment and fined him $1200.00.

    Issue. Whether the Florida legislature has demonstrated an interest in obtaining and making public the membership information sought as to justify the substantial abridgment of associational freedom which such disclosures will affect?

    Held. No. Judgment of the lower court reversed. It is an essential prerequisite to the validity of an investigation which intrudes into the area of constitutionally protected rights of speech, press, association and petition that the state convincingly show a substantial relation between the information sought and a subject of overriding and compelling state interest. Here, the local NAACP is the subject of the investigation and its local president held in contempt. There is no suggestion that that branch of the NAACP or the national organization is Communist dominated or influenced. The record in this case is insufficient to show a substantial connection between the local branch of the NAACP and Communist activities, which is an essential prerequisite to demonstrating the immediate, substantial and subordinating state interest necessary to justify the right of inquiry into the membership lists. Therefore, the Florida legislature has not demonstrated an interest in obtaining and maki
    ng public the membership information sought as to justify the substantial abridgment of associational freedom which such disclosures will affect.

    Dissent. The “nexus” here was sufficient to justify the inquiry into the membership list.

    Discussion. This majority in this case found that the Florida legislature had not demonstrated an interest that justified the substantial abridgment of associational freedom which such disclosures will affect.


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