United States: Bond v. Floyd

staff image

ARTICLE 19

01 Jan 1966

Share
Print Text only

385 US 116 (1966) (United States Supreme Court)

The appellant had been expelled from the state legislature for criticising the on-going war in Vietnam.


Theme:Miscellaneous
Sub-Issues: 
Test: 
Penalty:Other
Decision:Violation of the right to freedom of expression (First Amendment to the Constitution); unanimous
Jurisdiction:United States of America (Supreme Court)

Facts:

The appellant, a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, endorsed an anti-war statement against the Government's Vietnam policy and the operation of the laws relating to military service. He conducted a news interview stating among other things that as "a second class citizen" he was not required to support the war, as a pacifist he was opposed to all war, and that he saw nothing inconsistent with his statement and his taking the oath of office of member of the House of Representatives. Other House members challenged the appellant's right to be seated, charging that the statements aided national enemies, violated the laws relating to military service, discredited the House, and were inconsistent with the legislator's mandatory oath to support the Constitution. Following the House clerk's refusal to seat him, the appellant challenged the petitions as depriving him of his right to freedom of expression and being racially motivated (the appellant was black). Following a hearing, it was decided that the appellant should not be seated. The appellant then instituted legal proceedings for injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment. However, the District Court concluded that the appellant had been accorded procedural due process through the hearing, and it also held that appellant's remarks exceeded criticism of national policy and that he could not in good faith take an oath to support the State and Federal Constitutions and thus could not meet a qualification for membership which the House had the power to impose.

Held:

The Court considered that the State's principal argument was that the appellant's exclusion was justified because the State had a right to insist on loyalty to the Constitution as a condition of office. However, the Court noted that the appellant had repeatedly expressed his willingness to swear to the oath provided for in the State and Federal Constitutions; it was the other legislators who claimed the right to test his sincerity. This was illegitimate:

Such a power could be utilized to restrict the right of legislators to dissent from national or state policy or that of a majority of their colleagues under the guise of judging their loyalty to the Constitution. (at 132)

The Court noted that appellant's statements relating to military service were 'at worst unclear' on the question of the means to be adopted to avoid the draft; it did not follow from the statements that the appellant had advocated breaking the laws relating to military service.

The Court stressed the importance of freedom of speech, particularly for politicians:

The manifest function of the [right to freedom of expression] in a representative government requires that legislators be given the widest latitude to express their views on issues of policy. The central commitment ... is that "debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open." (at 135, 136)

It was clear that appellant's statements should be protected under the right to freedom of expression. The Court disagreed that state-legislators should be subject to a higher standard of scrutiny than others when they criticise public policy:

The interest of the public in hearing all sides of a public issue is hardly advanced by extending more protection to citizen-critics than to legislators. Legislators have an obligation to take positions on controversial political questions so that their constituents can be fully informed by them, and be better able to assess their qualifications for office; also so they may be represented in governmental debates by the person they have elected to represent them. (at 136-137)

Therefore, the Court held that the appellant's disqualification from membership in the Georgia House because of his statements violated his right to freedom of expression.


Download the full text here