GARNER v. LOUISIANA

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
26
Petitioner 
John Burrell Garner
Respondent 
Louisiana
Consolidation 
Briscoe et al. v. Louisiana, No. 27
Hoston et al. v. Louisiana, No. 28
Advocates
(argued the cause for the petitioners)
(argued the cause for Louisiana)
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Facts of the Case 

These are three consolidated cases where Caucasian and African American patrons participated in “sit ins” at segregated lunch counters in Baton Rouge Louisiana. Each case the patrons merely sat at lunch counters. They were not asked to leave by the restaurants, but were asked to leave by police officers. When the patrons refused to do so, they were arrested and charged with "disturbing the peace." Under Louisiana law, “disturbing the peace” is defined as violent boisterous or disruptive acts, or any other act that unreasonably disturbs the public. The prosecution did not present any evidence that the patrons were boisterous or disruptive in any way. The individuals were convicted in state court and the state supreme court denied relief.

Question 

1. Were the patrons’ convictions an unconstitutional enforcement of racial segregation by state power in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

2. Did the patrons’ convictions violate due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment because they were based on insufficient evidence and a highly vague statute?

3. Was the patrons’ right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment and made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment violated through the convictions for disorderly conduct?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for Garner, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Due Process

No answer. Yes. No answer. Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the majority opinion, expressing the views of six Justices reversing the state court convictions. The Supreme Court held that the convictions were so lacking in evidentiary support that they violated due process. Sitting peacefully at a lunch counter that custom dictates is segregated is not evidence of disturbing the peace. The majority found it unnecessary to reach the broader free speech and racial segregation questions.

Justice William O. Douglas concurred, writing that the lunch counters operated under a public license and so the state, in effect, was enforcing a policy of discrimination. Justice Felix Frankfurter concurred in the judgment, writing that the record contained no evidence that the individuals caused a disturbance or alarm to the public. Justice John M. Harlan concurred in the judgment, writing that the Louisiana statute, as applied, was unconstitutionally vague.

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GARNER v. LOUISIANA. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 November 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1961/1961_26>.
GARNER v. LOUISIANA, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1961/1961_26 (last visited November 26, 2014).
"GARNER v. LOUISIANA," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed November 26, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1961/1961_26.