Supreme Court Review

Article Title

Walker v City of Birmingham Revisited


The Supreme Court of the United State has received high praise for its handling of civil liberties controversies arising from the racial conflicts of the Second Reconstruction. The story, Professor Harry Kalven, Jr., remarked, “is a happy and encouraging one,” featuring a black protest movement blessed by “extraordinary tact and sure instinct” and “a gallant and sensitive Supreme Court.” The two collaborated in producing, he maintained, “an appropriate and exciting reworking of First Amendment doctrine.”It is significant that Kalven wrote his encomium in 1965. Supporting his assessment are rulings in which the Court shielded the organizational privacy of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), acknowledged litigation as a form of protected political expression, inhibited the squelching of massed dissent, and furnished journalists with new layers of insulation against potentially ruinous libel actions as they sought to inform the country about Jim Crow racial oppression in the Deep South. As the sixties wore on, however, there emerged good reason to be less impressed by the Court’s performance as a guardian of constitutional freedoms menaced by hostile officials. A striking instance of failure is Walker v City of Birmingham.

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