Today is the 50th anniversary of NAACP v. Alabama, landmark freedom of association case

Guilherme sez, "June 30th is the 50th birthday of NAACP v. Alabama, a landmark case protecting the right of association. Alabama's efforts to expel the NAACP from its state included its demand of the NAACP's membership list. The Supreme Court struck down this demand, noting the importance of associational privacy for dissent: "Inviolability of privacy in group association may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs"" In commemoration of the birthday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center is hosting an essay written by Law Professor Anita Allen at the link: 'NAACP v. Alabama, Privacy and Data Protection.' Some excerpts:"
In NAACP v. Alabama, the Court affirmed that the constitutional rights of speech and assembly include a right of private group association. The idea that Americans are free to join private groups was not new in 1958. However, the Court's decision to allow private groups to keep membership information confidential was an important constitutional milestone."

Whether handwritten on lined paper or stored electronically in a computer system, membership data is constitutionally protected from mandatory disclosure.

The fact that technology has made it easier to collect, store and share data revealing individuals’ group memberships should be of no consequence. The principles of expressive private association, confidentiality and anonymity embodied in the NAACP case should have an abiding place in the jurisprudence of every enlightened democracy.

Link (Thanks, Guilherme!)


  1. The case is a foundation for the right to privacy later set out in Roe v Wade.
    It’s closely related to two other cases, Talley v California (1960) and Bates v Little Rock (1961).
    Talley expanded the Alabama case to hold that there’s a right to anonymous speech, and the government can’t require identification disclaimers on political speech. 48 years later, the government still isn’t following its own rules in Talley, and goes around fining people or threatening them with jail for publications without disclaimers. It’s important to understand that these cases come out of the civil rights movement. Today many of the officals enforcing these unconstitutional policies think of themselves as liberal Democrats, so it’s useful to be able to show them how they are acting like 1950s-era segregationists. They might not care about computers privacy or freedom, but a letter from the local NAACP branch might get their attention.

  2. Wouldn’t government surveillance of protest groups, blacklisting of protesters, mass arrests of protesters to collect personal information w/o charges, etc. also violate NAACP vs. Alabama?

  3. As would, arguably, seizure and duplication of personal information on electronic devices at the borders.

    Were one to be carrying such records with them at the time, and they were seized without due cause and duplicated to be examined and used by agents of the federal government, I would say that easily violates this precedent of privacy.

    Then again, much of what is being done to citizens today is against the law… there’s just a lack of the required passion and solidarity to effectively fight it.

    You can be sure if there wasn’t such a large proportion of people eager to bend over for their colon-bomb screening because it makes them safer… and a larger proportion of people joining hands and challenging the legality of doing so, acting as a unified whole… it would be shut down.

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