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Mon, 03.10.1969

Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham is Decided

*On this date in 1969, Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham was decided. This was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Supreme Court struck down a Birmingham, Alabama, ordinance that prohibited citizens from holding parades and processions on city streets without obtaining a permit.  

The Petitioner was Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, a Black minister who helped lead 52 African Americans in an orderly civil rights march in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. He was arrested and convicted for violating an ordinance that proscribes participating in any parade or procession on city streets or public ways without first obtaining a permit from the City Commission. Section 1159 permits the Commission to refuse a parade permit if its members believe "the public welfare, peace, safety, health, decency, good order, morals or convenience require that it be refused."

Petitioner had previously been given to understand by a Commission member that under no circumstances would petitioner and his group be allowed to demonstrate in Birmingham. The Alabama Court of Appeals reversed the conviction on the grounds, inter alia, that 1159, as written, unconstitutionally imposed an "invidious prior restraint" without ascertainable standards for the granting of permits and that the ordinance had been discriminatorily enforced.

However, the Alabama Supreme Court in 1967 narrowly construed 1159 as an objective, even-handed traffic regulation which did not allow the Commission unlimited discretion in granting or withholding permits and upheld the petitioner's conviction. The case was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Shuttlesworth was represented by the prominent civil rights attorney James Nabrit III.   

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