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NAACP v. Button

    Brief Fact Summary. A Virginia statute banning “improper solicitation of any legal or professional business” as applied to the NAACP was held unconstitutional because the NAACP uses litigation as a form of political expression.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) protects vigorous advocacy of lawful ends against government intrusion.

    Facts. Virginia enacted a statute that banned the “improper solicitation of any legal or professional business” and later amended it to include Chapter 33, which made the statute apply to organizations such as the NAACP. The NAACP was in the practice of meeting with parents of students that were discriminated against by Virginia public schools and supplying forms by which the parents could submit to have the NAACP litigate their claims. The Virginia’s highest court held that the Virginia branch of the NAACP was in violation of Chapter 33.

    Issue. Whether Virginia’s statute violates the First Amendment of the Constitution?

    Held. Yes. Judgment of the highest state court reversed. The activities of the NAACP, its affiliates and legal staff shown in the record are modes of expression and association protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, which Virginia may not prohibit as improper solicitation of legal business. The First Amendment of the Constitution protects vigorous advocacy of lawful ends against government intrusion. In the context of the NAACP’s objectives, litigation is not a technique for resolving personal matters, it is a means for achieving equality in treatment for members of the Negro community. It is thus a form of political expression. Further, the statute is vague and overly broad which may result in selective enforcement against unpopular cases. The state has failed to advance any substantial regulatory interest in the form of substantive evils flowing from the NAACP’s activities, which can justify the broad prohibitions which it imposed. Therefore, Virginia’s statute viola
    tes the First Amendment of the Constitution.

    Dissent. Litigation, whether or not associated with the attempt to vindicate constitutional rights, is conduct. It is speech plus. The state may impose reasonable limitations as here.
    Concurrence. The law has a racially discriminatory purpose.

    Discussion. This case illustrates how controversial restrictions on organizational activity such as conducting political litigation are.


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