COX v. NEW HAMPSHIRE
A New Hampshire state statute prohibited parades, processions, and open-air gatherings in public spaces without a special license granted by the town selectman or licensing body. On July 8, 1939, Willis Cox, Walter Chaplinsky, John Konides and nearly 80 others gathered in a hall in Manchester, New Hampshire with the purpose of conducting an “information march” during which they would carry signs and hand out leaflets. The group did not apply for a permit. They were convicted in municipal court for violating the statute prohibiting unlicensed parades. The Superior Court conducted a new trial before a jury that also found the defendants guilty, and the Supreme Court of New Hampshire affirmed the conviction.
Does the New Hampshire state statute that prohibits unlicensed parades violate the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly as applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment?
No. Chief Justice Charles E. Hughes delivered the opinion for the unanimous Court. The Court held that a municipality’s ability to impose regulations that create order and safety for its populace does not infringe on the civil liberties of its people. Because the statute in question only grants a town selectman or licensing board the limited authority to ensure that a proposed parade will not interfere with the proper uses of streets, there is not opportunity for it to wield undue or arbitrary power that would infringe on constitutional rights. The Court also held that there was no evidence that the statute had been administered unfairly in this case.