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Laird v. Tatum

United States Supreme Court
408 U.S. 1 (1972)


Federal statute 10 U.S.C. § 331 gives the president power to use the armed forces to subdue an uprising in a state against its government if the state has requested assistance to suppress it. Acting under the authority of § 331, President Johnson called in federal troops to help dissipate civil unrest in Detroit, Michigan, resulting from the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The events in Detroit caused army officials to question whether they were prepared for providing assistance in such situations. To address these concerns, the army (defendant) implemented a data-gathering program to develop a more efficient strategy in responding to local authorities’ requests for assistance. The system involved gathering information about civilian activities that might cause civil disorder and reporting that information to various army posts. The main sources of information were news media and other publicly available materials. A group of individuals (plaintiffs) who had engaged in what they referred to as “lawful and peaceful civilian activity” brought a class action suit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that their First Amendment rights were violated by the army’s surveillance program.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Burger, C.J.)

Dissent (Brennan, J.)

Dissent (Douglas, J.)

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