National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie

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National Socialist Party v. Skokie
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Decided June 14, 1977
Full case name National Socialist Party of America et al. v. Village of Skokie
Docket nos. 76-1786
Citations 432 U.S. 43 (more)
97 S. Ct. 2205; 53 L. Ed. 2d 96; 1977 U.S. LEXIS 113; 2 Media L. Rep. 1993
If a state seeks to impose an injunction in the face of a substantial claim of First Amendment rights, it must provide strict procedural safeguards, including immediate appellate review. Absent such immediate review, the appellate court must grant a stay of any lower court order restricting the exercise of speech and assembly rights.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan, Jr. · Potter Stewart
Byron White · Thurgood Marshall
Harry Blackmun · Lewis F. Powell, Jr.
William Rehnquist · John P. Stevens
Case opinions
Per curiam.
Concur/dissent White
Dissent Rehnquist, joined by Burger, Stewart
Laws applied
First Amendment of the United States Constitution

National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977), arising out of what is sometimes referred to as the Skokie Affair,[1] is a United States Supreme Court case dealing with freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Related court decisions are captioned Collin v. Smith[2] and Smith v. Collin.[3] Although summarily decided on procedural grounds, the necessary implication of the Supreme Court's 1977 NSPA decision — not directly stated in the unsigned, 5-4 per curiam opinion itself[4] — is that a group's request to engage in a parade or demonstration involving public display of the Nazi swastika is a symbolic form of free speech that is at least presumptively entitled to First Amendment protections. In other words, the Court's decision implies that First Amendment protection would not be denied to use of the swastika as a form of "fighting words". Three of the four dissenters stated their agreement with the majority's position that First Amendment protections were applicable to the NSPA's challenge to the Illinois injunction. (Only Justice White did not join that statement.) By requiring the state court to consider the neo-Nazis' appeal without delay, the U.S. Supreme Court decision opened to door to allowing the National Socialist Party of America to march.


In 1977 Frank Collin, the leader of National Socialist Party of America, announced the party's intention to march through Skokie, Illinois. In the predominantly Jewish community, one in six residents was a Holocaust survivor or was directly related to one.[5] Originally, the NSPA had planned a political rally in Marquette Park in Chicago; however the Chicago authorities blocked these plans by requiring the NSPA to post a public safety insurance bond and by banning political demonstrations in Marquette Park.

On behalf of the NSPA, the ACLU challenged the injunction issued by the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois that prohibited marchers at the proposed Skokie rally from wearing Nazi uniforms or displaying swastikas. The ACLU was represented by civil rights attorneys David Goldberger[6] (later a professor at Ohio State's law school[7]) and Burton Joseph.[8][9] The challengers argued that the injunction violated the First Amendment rights of the marchers to express themselves.

Prior and subsequent history

The case began in the local Cook County court, when the Village government successfully sued, under the caption Village of Skokie v. NSPA, for an injunction to bar the demonstration. The ACLU appealed on behalf of NSPA, but both the Illinois Appellate Court and the Illinois Supreme Court refused to expedite the case or to stay the injunction. The ACLU then appealed that refusal to the Supreme Court of the United States.[4]

On June 14, 1977, the Supreme Court ordered Illinois to hold a hearing on their ruling against the National Socialist Party of America, emphasizing that "if a State seeks to impose a restraint on First Amendment rights, it must provide strict procedural safeguards, including immediate appellate review... Absent such review, the State must instead allow a stay. The order of the Illinois Supreme Court constituted a denial of that right."[4] On remand, the Illinois Supreme Court sent the case back to the Illinois Appellate Court, which eliminated the injunction against everything but display of the swastika.

In its full review of the case, the Illinois Supreme Court focused on the First Amendment implications of display of the swastika. Skokie attorneys argued that for Holocaust survivors, seeing the swastika was like being physically attacked. The state Supreme Court rejected that argument, ruling that display of the swastika is a symbolic form of free speech entitled to First Amendment protections and determined that the swastika itself did not constitute "fighting words."[10] Its ruling allowed the National Socialist Party of America to march.

In parallel litigation in the federal courts, under the caption Collin v. Smith, the Village's ordinance was declared unconstitutional, first by the district court[11] and then by divided vote of the Seventh Circuit court of appeals.[12] Over a published dissent by Justice Blackmun (joined by Justice White) giving a detailed history of the case and an overview of the issues involved, the U.S. Supreme Court denied further review.[13]

Effect of the decision

In the summer of 1978, in response to the Supreme Court's decision, some Holocaust survivors set up a museum on the Main Street of Skokie to commemorate those who had died in the concentration camps. Ultimately the NSPA failed to carry through its march in Skokie. (Gaining permission in Chicago, they marched there instead.) From a legal point of view, the litigation left undecided, at the Supreme Court level, whether such older precedents as Beauharnais v. Illinois and Terminiello v. Chicago remain authoritative statements of how the First Amendment applies to provocative and intimidating hate speech expressing fascist and/or racist ideas.

See also


  1. ^ Skokie Public Library, timeline, Frank Colllin, et al. v. Albert Smith, et al.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c National Socialist Party v. Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977) (per curiam) -
  5. ^ Long, Deborah (2010-01-01). First Hitler, Then Your Father, and Now You. p. 71. ISBN 9780557302925. 
  6. ^ Interview with Prof. Martin Redish, WTTW (2013)
  7. ^ "Professors: David A. Goldberger". Moritz College of Law. The Ohio State University. Retrieved 20 August 2017. 
  8. ^ Grimes, William (April 4, 2010). "Burton Joseph, Lawyer in First Amendment Cases, Is Dead at 79". The New York Times. p. A22. 
  9. ^ Burnette, Daarel (April 1, 2010). "Burton Joseph, 1930-2010: Attorney championed civil rights". Chicago Tribune. 
  10. ^ Village of Skokie v. NSPA, 69 Ill.2d 605, 373 N.E.2d 21 (1978)
  11. ^ Collin v. Smith, 447 F.Supp. 676 (N.D.Ill. 1978)
  12. ^ Collin v. Smith, 578 F.2d 1197 (7th Cir. 1978)
  13. ^ Smith v. Collin, 439 U.S. 916 (1978) (denying certiorari)

Further reading

  • Bollinger, Lee C.; Neier, Aryeh (1982). "The Skokie Legacy: Reflections on an 'Easy Case' and Free Speech Theory". Michigan Law Review. 80 (4): 617–33. doi:10.2307/1288226. JSTOR 1288226. 
  • Barnum, David G. (1982). "Decision Making in A Constitutional Democracy: Policy Formation in the Skokie Free Speech Controversy". The Journal of Politics. 44 (2): 480–508. doi:10.2307/2130597. 
  • Schauer, Frederick (2005). "The Wily Agitator and the American Free Speech Tradition". Stanford Law Review. 57 (6): 2157–70. JSTOR 40040243. 

External links

  • Chronology of Events
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