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Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham

United States Supreme Court
394 U.S. 147 (1981)


Shuttlesworth (defendant), an African-American church minister, applied for a parade permit in the city of Birmingham, Alabama (plaintiff). A city ordinance conferred discretionary authority upon a city commission to approve or deny parade permit applications. In spite of the commission’s refusal to grant a permit, Shuttlesworth joined 51 other African-Americans in a march along the streets of Birmingham. After four blocks, the marchers were stopped and arrested. Shuttlesworth was convicted of violating the parade permit ordinance and sentenced to 90 days hard labor plus an additional 48 days for failure to pay the associated fine. Shuttlesworth appealed the conviction in state court. The state court of appeals concluded that the city ordinance violated First Amendment free speech protections and vacated the conviction. The state supreme court held that the ordinance was not unconstitutional when narrowly construed and applied. The state supreme court reinstated Shuttlesworth’s conviction. Shuttlesworth petitioned the United States Supreme Court for review.

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