|National Socialist Party v. Skokie|
|Decided June 14, 1977|
|Full case name||National Socialist Party of America et al. v. Village of Skokie|
|Citations||432 U.S. 43 (more)|
|Subsequent||On remand, Vill. of Skokie v. Nat'l Socialist Party of Am., 51 Ill. App. 3d 279, 366 N.E.2d 347 (1977); affirmed in part, reversed in part, 69 Ill. 2d 605, 373 N.E.2d 21 (1978).|
|If a state seeks to impose an injunction in the face of a substantial claim of First Amendment rights, it must provide strict procedural safeguards, including immediate appellate review. Absent such immediate review, the appellate court must grant a stay of any lower court order restricting the exercise of speech and assembly rights.|
|Dissent||Rehnquist, joined by Burger, Stewart|
|U.S. Const. amends. I, XIV|
National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977), arising out of what is sometimes referred to as the Skokie Affair, is a United States Supreme Court case dealing with freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. This case is considered a "'classic' free speech case" in Constitutional law classes. Related court decisions are captioned Skokie v. NSPA, Collin v. Smith, and Smith v. Collin. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4, per curiam. The Supreme Court's 1977 ruling granted certiorari and reversed and remanded the Illinois Supreme Court's denial to lift the lower court's injunction on the NSPA's march. In other words, the Courts decided a person's assertion their speech is being restrained must be reviewed immediately by the judiciary. By requiring the state court to consider the neo-Nazis' appeal without delay, the U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door to allowing the National Socialist Party of America to march.
Before the Skokie Affair, Frank Collin and his Neo-Nazi group, the NSPA, would regularly hold demonstrations in Marquette Park, where the NSPA was headquartered. However, the Chicago authorities would eventually block these plans by requiring the NSPA to post a $350,000 public safety insurance bond and by banning political demonstrations in Marquette Park. While Collin did file a lawsuit against the City of Chicago for a violation against his first amendment rights, he realized that this case would get tied up in the courts for far longer than he was willing to wait to begin marching again. On October 4, 1976, Collin sent out letters to the park districts of the North Shore suburbs of Chicago, requesting permits for the NSPA to hold a white power demonstration. While some suburbs chose to ignore their letter, Skokie--home to a significant number of Jewish people, many of them survivors of the Holocaust--chose to respond. At first, the Skokie mayor and Village Council intended to allow the NSPA to demonstrate and their tactic was to ignore them to give them as little publicity as possible. The Jewish community found this unacceptable and held meetings throughout the month of April to discuss the matter. The mayor and the Village Council heard their concerns and on April 27, 1977, ordered Village attorney, Harvey Schwartz, to file an injunction.
In addition to filing the injunction, the Village of Skokie passed three ordinances on May 2, 1977 to prevent any future event like the NSPA's request. One states that people could not wear military-style uniforms during demonstrations. The two other ordinances prohibited the distribution of material containing hate speech and a required a $350,000 insurance bond to hold a demonstration. These ordinances rendered it impossible for the NSPA to be able to hold the event.
Collin used both the injunction and ordinances as an opportunity to claim infringement upon his First Amendment rights and subsequently wanted to protest in Skokie for the NSPA's right to free speech. On March 20, 1977, Collin notified the Chief of Police and Park District of the NSPA's intentions to protest for their right to free speech on May 1. In the letters, he stated that about 30-50 members planned to demonstrate outside of the Village Hall from about 3-3:30 p.m. and they planned to hold up signs demanding free speech for white men, including the phrases "White Free Speech", "Free Speech for White Americans", and "Free Speech for the White Men". Collin would send another letter on June 22, 1977 with the same details for a protest planned for July 4 from 12:00-12:30pm.
Schwartz would file an emergency injunction to the Circuit Court of Cook County on May 1, 1977. On behalf of the NSPA, the ACLU challenged the injunction issued by the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, that prohibited marchers at the proposed Skokie rally from wearing Nazi uniforms or displaying swastikas. The ACLU had assigned civil rights attorneys David Goldberger and Burton Joseph to Collin's cases. The plaintiffs argued that the injunction violated the First Amendment rights of the marchers to express themselves.
The case began in the local Cook County court, when the Village government successfully sued, under the caption Village of Skokie v. NSPA, for an injunction to bar the demonstration. The ACLU appealed on behalf of NSPA, but both the Illinois Appellate Court and the Illinois Supreme Court refused to expedite the case or to stay the injunction. The ACLU then appealed that refusal to the Supreme Court of the United States.
On June 14, 1977, the Supreme Court ordered Illinois to hold a hearing on their ruling against the National Socialist Party of America, emphasizing that "if a State seeks to impose a restraint on First Amendment rights, it must provide strict procedural safeguards, including immediate appellate review. ... Absent such review, the State must instead allow a stay. The order of the Illinois Supreme Court constituted a denial of that right." On remand, the Illinois Supreme Court sent the case back to the Illinois Appellate Court. The Appellate Court ruled per curiam on July 11, 1977 that the swastika was not protected by the First Amendment. In other words, the NSPA could march, but they could not display the swastika during their march.
In its full review of the case, the Illinois Supreme Court focused on the First Amendment implications of display of the swastika. Skokie attorneys argued that for Holocaust survivors, seeing the swastika was like being physically attacked. The state Supreme Court rejected that argument, ruling that display of the swastika is a symbolic form of free speech entitled to First Amendment protections and determined that the swastika itself did not constitute "fighting words". Its ruling allowed the National Socialist Party of America to march.
In parallel litigation in the federal courts, under the caption Collin v. Smith, the Village's ordinance was declared unconstitutional, first by the district court and then by divided vote of the Seventh Circuit court of appeals. Over a published dissent by Justice Blackmun (joined by Justice White) giving a detailed history of the case and an overview of the issues involved, the U.S. Supreme Court denied further review.
In the summer of 1978, in response to the Supreme Court's decision, some Holocaust survivors set up a museum on the Main Street of Skokie to commemorate those who had died in the concentration camps. The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center remains open today, having been moved to a new permanent location on Woods Drive in 2009.
Ultimately, the NSPA failed to carry through its march in Skokie, marching in Chicago instead when they had gained permission. From a legal point of view,[according to whom?] the litigation left undecided, at the Supreme Court level, whether such older precedents as Beauharnais v. Illinois and Terminiello v. Chicago remain authoritative statements of how the First Amendment applies to provocative and offensive speech.