• Last updated on November 11, 2022

In this landmark ruling, the Supreme Court held that the First and Fourteenth Amendments protected the right of an organization to use the courts in promoting its organizational mission.

The Virginia legislature enacted a “barratry” statute that threatened to disbar attorneys who represented an organization sponsoring a judicial proceeding without having a “pecuniary interest” in the outcome. The purpose of the statute was to prevent the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other civil rights organizations from sponsoring antisegregation litigation. By a 6-3 majority, the Supreme Court ruled that the statute was unconstitutional. Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.’sBrennan, William J., Jr.;National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Button[National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Button] opinion for the Court emphasized that litigation is a protected form of political expression and is often the most effective means for an association to promote its goals as well as the only practical way for a minority to petition the government for a redress of grievances. In addition, a state may not ignore constitutional rights under the guise of prohibiting professional misconduct. In dissent, Justice John M. Harlan II argued that litigation was primarily conduct rather than First Amendment expression and therefore was subject to reasonable regulations.Assembly and association, freedom of;National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Button[National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Button]

Supporters of the NAACP gathering at a rally in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1964.

(Library of Congress)

Assembly and association, freedom of

Fundamental rights

Legal Defense Fund, NAACP

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama

Race and discrimination

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