NATIONAL SOCIALIST PARTY v. SKOKIE
The village of Skokie, Illinois had a population of approximately 70,000 persons, of whom approximately 40,500 were Jewish. Included within this population were thousands who survived detention in Nazi concentration camps. On March 20, 1977, Frank Collin, the leader of the National Socialist (“Nazi”) Party of America, informed Skokie’s police chief that the National Socialists intended to march on the village’s sidewalk on May 1. As a result of media attention and a number of phone calls allegedly made by Nazi Party members to residents with “Jewish names”, this planned demonstration became common knowledge among Skokie’s Jewish community.
Collin wrote a letter to Skokie officials stating that the purpose of the demonstration was to protest the Skokie Park District’s ordinance requiring a bond of $350,000 to be posted prior to the issuance of a park permit. He also stated that the demonstration would consist of 30-50 demonstrators marching in single file in front of the Skokie Village Hall. The demonstrators intended to wear uniforms similar to those traditionally worn by Nazis, including swastika armbands. Collin also said that the demonstrators would not make derogatory public statements and would cooperate with reasonable police instructions.
The district court of Cook County conducted a hearing on a motion by the Village of Skokie for a preliminary injunction. The court considered Collin’s letter as an affidavit and took the testimony of a number of Skokie residents. One resident testified that a number of Jewish organizations planned a counterdemonstration for the same day with an expected attendance of 12,000 to 15,000 persons, and that the appearance of Nazi demonstrators could well lead to violence. The mayor of Skokie also testified that the demonstration could lead to uncontrollable violence. The court entered an order enjoining defendants from marching, walking, or parading or otherwise displaying the swastika on or off their person on May 1, 1977. The Nazi Party applied to the Illinois appellate court for a stay of the district court’s injunction; the appellate court denied their application. On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court also denied the petition for a stay. The Nazi Party then filed an application for a stay with Justice John Paul Stevens, who referred the matter to the Court.
Did the Illinois Supreme Court improperly deny the National Socialist Party’s request for a stay of the district court’s injunction?
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly
Yes. In a per curiam opinion, the Court held that Illinois must provide strict procedural safeguards, including appellate review, to deny a stay for an injunction depriving the Nazi Party of protected First Amendment rights. The Court treated the Illinois Supreme Court’s denial of a stay as a final judgment for the purposes of Supreme Court jurisdiction because it involved a right separable from and collateral to the merits of the Nazi Party’s case. Hence, the Court also treated the Nazi Party’s application for a stay as a petition for certiorari. The Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Justice William Rehnquist, joined by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justice Potter Stewart, dissented. He disagreed that the refusal of the Illinois Supreme Court to stay an injunction could be described as a final judgment or decree by the highest court of a state. He noted that no Illinois appellate court had heard or decided the merits of the Nazi Party’s federal claim.