Tag Archive for 'United States Supreme Court'

From the Archives: The NAACP Reviews Robert H. Bork

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

Judge Bork's Views Regarding Racial Discrimination

Former Solicitor General and US Court of Appeals judge Robert H. Bork is remembered for his role in the Watergate scandal and his time serving as an advisor to Mitt Romney, but perhaps most vividly for the historic rejection of his nomination to the US Supreme Court. After President Reagan recommended Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987, the nomination was strongly opposed by a public campaign led by Democratic politicians like Edward Kennedy and organizations that included the NAACP, ACLU, and NOW.

Bork’s record as a strict constructionist who often disagreed with the racial and gender reforms of the 1960s and 1970s concerned many civil and women’s rights activists who feared that, as a Supreme Court Justice, Bork might work to overturn recent decisions on abortion and affirmative action. In August 1987, the NAACP released a report on “Judge Bork’s Views Regarding Racial Discrimination,” in which they detailed Bork’s record of opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and his criticism of previous voting rights and affirmative action-related decisions. A copy of the NAACP’s report can be found in the Helen Edmonds papers. In one section the report quotes an article Bork wrote in 1964 where he described the “dangers” implied by the 1964 Civil Rights Act that “enforc[es] associations between private individuals which would, if uniformly applied, destroy personal freedom over broad areas of life.” 1 Bork’s hostility to the Civil Rights Act is attributed by the NAACP to his belief “that it infringed on the freedom of whites to discriminate.” 2 The report also highlighted Bork’s disapproval of laws protecting minorities against housing discrimination and poll taxes, as well as his support of Nixon’s anti-busing legislation, which hoped to limit the use of busing to desegregate public school systems across the South.

It was documents like this NAACP report that swayed opinion against Bork in 1987. After his nomination was rejected, Bork left the Court of Appeals and spent the rest of his life as a scholar, legal advisor, and best-selling author. Despite his controversial career, Bork was an extremely influential figure who inspired a generation of conservative lawyers and politicians. Judge Bork passed away in December 2012.

1. “Judge Bork’s Views Regarding Racial Discrimination.” Helen G. Edmonds Papers. Folder 100, Scan 1.

2. “Judge Bork’s Views Regarding Racial Discrimination.” Helen G. Edmonds Papers. Folder 100, Scan 15.

Remembering NAACP v. Alabama

On June 30, 1958—54 years ago today—the Supreme Court in NAACP v. Alabama took a stand in favor of individuals’ constitutional rights, asserting that Alabama’s demand for the NAACP’s membership lists violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In 1956, Alabama Attorney General John Patterson sued the NAACP, claiming that the civil rights organization violated a state law which required out-of-state companies to file their corporate charter with state officials and designate an agent to act on the company’s behalf.

After the NAACP refused to capitulate to a state judge’s orders to cease operations and produce records—including the names and addresses of its members—the organization was fined $10,000. While the NAACP was willing to turn over some records, it was unwilling to produce the membership lists.

After the Alabama Supreme Court twice refused to review the case, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments.

In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that Alabama’s demand violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The disclosure of membership lists, the Court argued, would suppress legal association among the group’s members—in fact, earlier disclosures of member identities had led to loss of employment, physical coercion, and other hostile treatment.

The ruling read, in part:

Effective advocacy of both public and private points of view particularly controversial ones, is undeniably enhanced by group association, as this Court has more than once recognized by remarking upon the close nexus between the freedoms of speech and assembly. . . It is beyond debate that freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas is an inseparable aspect of the “liberty” assured by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which embraces freedom of speech. . .

. . . This court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations. . . Inviolability of privacy in group associations may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.

The Court did not rule on the legality of the NAACP’s work in Alabama, but it did overturn the contempt order and the fine. The decision signaled an important acknowledgement of the freedom of association, and paved the way for future success in the struggle against racial discrimination.

To read the full text of the decision, click here.

To listen to the oral argument, click here.

To read a news article printed at the time, click here.

To learn more, click here and here.

To learn more about the NAACP, click here.

To learn about the controversial John Patterson, who became Governor one year after NAACP v. Alabama, check out Gene Howard’s Patterson for Alabama: The Life and Career of John Patterson (University of Alabama Press, 2008).

To learn about African Americans’ struggle for civil rights during the next decade in Alabama, check out Frye Gaillard’s Cradle of Freedom: Alabama and the Movement that Changed America (University of Alabama Press, 2004) and Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail (University of Alabama Press, 2010).

Remembering the first African American Supreme Court Justice

On this day 44 years ago, Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, becoming the first African American to serve on America’s highest court.

Well-known as a leading attorney in the landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Marshall worked for the NAACP for years before becoming a Second Circuit Court of Appeals judge, Solicitor General, and, finally, an associate justice of the Supreme Court. He would spend 24 years on the Supreme Court before retiring at age 82. He became a pillar of the civil rights movement, working tirelessly throughout his career to bring an end to America’s long history of discrimination and segregation

A graduate of Lincoln University, Marshall was denied enrollment at the University of Maryland’s School of Law because of his race. He graduated first in his class from Howard University Law School, and later represented Donald Murray in a lawsuit that integrated the University of Maryland. Interestingly, the University of Maryland later named its law library after Marshall.

To learn more about Marshall’s life and work, check out this article written by the New York Times on the day he died.

Baltimore’s airport, named after Thurgood Marshall, provides another thorough biography.