JUNE 30, 1958
In NAACP v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state could not compel the NAACP to release its membership lists.
The lawsuit arose out of a lawsuit filed by Alabama Attorney General John M. Patterson, who claimed the civil rights organization had harmed the state’s reputation by promoting the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the admission of Autherine Lucy to the University of Alabama.
Justices wrote that requiring the NAACP to turn over membership lists would violate the First Amendment, which promises the freedom of association.
“It is hardly a novel perception that compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as [other] forms of governmental action,” the justices wrote. In the past, such exposures had led to members suffering “economic reprisals, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion and other manifestations of public hostility,” the justices wrote.
The ruling proved a great victory for the civil rights organization, which enabled it to continue operating in Alabama.