Jerry P. Shinley Archive:
Judge John Minor Wisdom on the SCEF Raid



Subject: Judge John Minor Wisdom on the SCEF Raid
Date: 07 Jan 2000 00:00:00 GMT
Message-ID: <854oe5$kld$>

Jan 10, 1964

This is a suit by James A. Dombrowski, Executive Director of Plaintiff Southern Conference Educational Fund, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as the SCEF) and the SCEF seeking to have declared unconstitutional LSA-Revised Statutes, Title 14, Sections 358 through 388, referred to as the Subversive Activities and Communist Control [**2] Law, and LSA-Revised Statutes, Title 14, Sections 390 through 390.5, referred to as the Communist Propaganda Control Law.

The alleged purpose of the SCEF is to (1) promote the general welfare, and (2) to improve the economic, social and cultural standards of the Southern people in accordance with the highest American democratic institutions and ideals.

Defendants are James H. Pfister, a Louisiana State Representative and Chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Un-American Activities of the Louisiana Legislature, Russel R. Willie, a Major in the Louisiana State Police, Jimmie H. Davis, Governor of the State of Louisiana, Jack P. F. Gremillion, Attorney General of the State of Louisiana, Thomas D. Burbank, Commanding Officer of the Division of Louisiana State Police, and Jim Garrison, District Attorney for the Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana. All parties defendant are sued individually and in their official capacities.


After suit was filed a petition of intervention and complaint was filed by Benjamin E. Smith and Bruce C. Waltzer (hereinafter referred to as Intervenors). Mr. Smith is Treasurer of the SCEF and Mr. Waltzer is a 'friend and supporter' of the SCEF. The petition of intervention and complaint is fully set forth in Appendix B.


[Judge John Minor Wisdom's dissent to the majority opinion of Judges Ellis and West:]

I respectfully dissent.

The main issue in this case is not, as the majority opinion declares, 'the State's basic right of self-preservation'. No one questions this right.

The main issue is whether the State n9 is abusing its legislative power and criminal processes: whether the State, under the pretext of protecting itself against subversion, has harassed and humiliated the plaintiffs and is about to prosecute them solely because their activities in promoting civil rights for Negroes conflict with the State's steel-hard policy of segregation. They ask the federal court to defend their federally protected rights.

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n9. The prime mover against the plaintiffs is the Joint Legislative Committee on Un-American Activities of the Louisiana Legislature. The plaintiffs sued James H. Pfister, Chairman of that Committee, individually and as Chairman. The other defendants are Jimmie H. Davis, Governor of the State; Jack P. F. Gremillion, State Attorney General; James Garrison, District Attorney for the Parish of Orleans; Thomas D. Burbank, Commanding Officer of the State Police; and Russel R. Willie, a Major in the State Police. For convenience, the majority opinion speaks of all or some of these individuals when it uses the term 'State'. I do the same.


A. The intervenors, two practicing lawyers in New Orleans, have been active in civil rights cases, representing Negroes in many desegregation cases and representing the American Civil Liberties Union in all sorts of cases. They were arrested. At gunpoint their homes and offices were raided and ransacked by police officers and trustees from the House of Detention acting under the direct supervision of the staff director and the counsel for the State Un-American Activities Committee. The home and office of the director of Southern Conference Educational Fund were also [**49] raided. Among the dangerous articles removed was Thoreau's Journal. A truckload of files, membership lists, subscription lists to SCEF's newspaper, correspondence, and records were removed from SCEF's office, destroying its capacity to function. At the time of the arrests, Mr. Pfister, Chairman of the Committee, announced to the press that the raids and arrest resulted from 'racial agitation'. An able, experienced, and independent-minded district judge of the Criminal District Court for the Parish of Orleans, after hearing evidence, discharged the plaintiffs from arrest on grounds that the arrest warrants were improvidently issued and that there was no reasonable cause for the arrests. Shortly thereafter, the Board of Governors of Louisiana [*574] State Bar Association adopted a resolution stating, in part:

'The bar has a responsibility for safeguarding the principles which guarantee due process, and it is a deep concern where procedural Or substantive aspects of search and seizure harass a member of the bar in the proper exercise of his duties.

'Search and seizure of a file in a lawyer's office, unless due process has been adhered to in the strictest sense, is abhorred since [**50] such procedure endangers the exercise of constitutional rights of every lawyer and particularly the rights of the client who has placed his trust in him.

'Specifically, this board would urge that police actions by any arm of government scruplously conform to the best traditions of justice, which guarantee due process to every citizen.' New Orleans Times-Picayune, January 3, 1964.

One of the intervenors is an officer of SCEF. The other lawyer is not even a member; he is threatened with prosecution for failing to register as a member of the National Lawyers' Guild.

The plaintiffs say that the purpose of the Southern Conference Educational Fund is to improve economic, social, and cultural standards in the South in accordance with the highest American institutions and ideals. Its principal activity is to promote civil rights for Negroes by education, correspondence, and publication of a newspaper. The plaintiffs deny any connection with communism or subversion.

As emphasized earlier, the plaintiffs contend that, even if the law is valid on its face, the State has searched their homes and offices, seized their property, arrested them, and is about to prosecute them not because they [**51] are Communists -- they deny any connection with communism -- but because their thinking is not compatible with the State's segregation policy. The plaintiffs offer proof in the form of affidavits and witnesses willing to testify.


Chairman Pfister is quoted as saying that the plaintiffs were racial agitators. If that is true, and if the plaintiffs' modest agitation by mail was motivated only by the plaintiffs' interest in civil rights for Negroes, then, once again, as in Bush v. Orleans Parish School Board, the State has 'marshalled the full force of its criminal law to enforce its social philosophy through the policeman's club.' Under any rational concept of federalism the federal district court has the primary [**80] responsibility and the duty to determine whether a state court proceeding is or is not a disguised effort to maintain the State's unyielding policy of segregation at the expense of the individual citizen's federally quaranteed rights and freedoms.

This Court should get on with its work.


Jerry Shinley

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