The Supreme Court explicitly recognized that a freedom of association was implied in the First Amendment’s guarantee of free expression and free assembly and was an “inseparable aspect” of the liberty guaranteed by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
As the Civil Rights movement started in the 1950’s, several southern states tried to limit the activities of groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Alabama had a law that required out-of-state businesses to register with the state and disclose their membership list in order to do business in the state. A state court concluded that the NAACP was a business rather than a nonprofit organization and ordered the group to turn over the names of its members to the state attorney general. The NAACP refused and argued that the disclosure of rank-and-file members would lead to reprisals and public hostility, placing unacceptable burdens on the right of members to belong to the association and to support its goals.
Roy Wilkins (second from left) and other NAACP leaders holding a poster listing the names of four African Americans lynched in Mississippi in 1955.
The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the NAACP’s position. Writing for the Court, Justice John M. Harlan II
Assembly and association, freedom of
Due process, substantive
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Race and discrimination