Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, 372 U.S. 539 (1961)

It has long been accepted that the state has the power to use legislative investigations to protect its vital interests. However, in Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, the Supreme Court held that the state may not use this power to infringe upon individual First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of free speech and association of its citizens, unless it can show that such infringement serves a ‘‘compelling and subordinating governmental interest.’’

In 1959, five years after the Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), the Florida State Legislature established a legislative investigation committee to study ‘‘subversive organizations.’’ As part of its work, the committee subpoenaed Gibson, president of the Miami branch of the NAACP, and asked him to produce a membership list of his organizations. He refused and was found in contempt.

The state of Florida’s purported reason for requesting the NAACP’s membership list was to determine whether it had been infiltrated by communists. The Court recognized that inquiring about the actions of a subversive group such as the Communist Party might qualify as a state effort to protect its vital interests. However, the committee made no claim that the NAACP was a subversive organization. Its failure to establish a ‘‘substantial connection’’ between the ‘‘Miami branch of the NAACP and communist activities’’ meant that the Court could not find the ‘‘compelling and subordinating state interest which must exist if ’’ the essential freedoms of the First and Fourteenth Amendments ‘‘are to be curtailed’’ (emphasis in original).

LAWRENCE D. NORDEN

References and Further Reading

  • Entin, Jonathan L., Litigation, Political Mobilization, and Social Reform: Insights From Florida’s Pre-Brown Civil Rights Era, Florida Law Review 52 (2000): 497.

Cases and Statutes Cited

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