Carey v. Brown, 447 U.S. 455 (1980)

Author: U.S. Supreme Court

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Carey v. Brown, 447 U.S. 455 (1980)

Carey v. Brown

No. 79-703

Argued April 15, 1980
Decided June 20, 1980
447 U.S. 455



An Illinois statute generally prohibits picketing of residences or dwellings, but exempts from its prohibition peaceful picketing of a place of employment involved in a labor dispute. Appellees were convicted in state court of violating this statute when they picketed the Mayor of Chicago’s home in protest against his alleged failure to support the busing of schoolchildren to achieve racial integration. Thereafter, appellees brought suit in Federal District Court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the statute is unconstitutional on its face and as applied, and an injunction prohibiting appellant and other state and local officials from enforcing the statute. The District Court denied all relief, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the statute, both on its face and as applied to appellees, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Held: The Illinois statute is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment since it makes an impermissible distinction between peaceful labor picketing and other peaceful picketing. Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92. Pp. 459-471.

(a) In prohibiting peaceful picketing on the public streets and sidewalks in residential neighborhoods, the statute regulates expressive conduct that falls within the First Amendment’s preserve, and, in exempting peaceful labor picketing from its general prohibition, the statute discriminates between lawful and unlawful conduct based upon the content of the demonstrator’s communication. On its face, the statute accords preferential treatment to the expression of views on one particular subject; information about labor disputes may be freely disseminated but discussion of all other issues is restricted. The permissibility of residential picketing is thus dependent solely on the nature of the message being conveyed. Pp. 459-463.

(b) Standing alone, the State’s asserted interest in promoting the privacy of the home is not sufficient to save the statute. The statute makes no attempt to distinguish among various sorts of nonlabor picketing on the basis of the harms they would inflict on the privacy interest. More fundamentally, the exclusion of labor picketing cannot be upheld as a means of protecting residential privacy for the simple reason that nothing in the content-based labor-nonlabor distinction has any bearing on privacy. Pp. 464-465.

(c) Similarly, the State’s interest in providing special protection for labor protests cannot, without more, justify the labor picketing exemption. Labor picketing is no more deserving of First Amendment protection than are public protests over other issues, particularly the important economic, social, and political subjects about which appellees wished to demonstrate. Pp. 466-467.

(d) Nor can the statute be justified as an attempt to accommodate the competing rights of the homeowner to enjoy his privacy and the employee to demonstrate over labor disputes, since such an attempt hinges on the validity of both of these goals, the latter of which -- the desire to favor one form of speech over all others -- is illegitimate. Likewise, the statute cannot be justified as an attempt to prohibit picketing that would impinge on residential privacy while permitting picketing that would not. Numerous types of peaceful picketing other than labor picketing would have but a negligible impact on privacy interests, and numerous other actions of a homeowner might constitute "nonresidential" uses of his property, and would thus serve to vitiate the right to residential privacy. Pp. 467-469.

(e) While the State’s interest in protecting the wellbeing, tranquility, and privacy of the home is of the highest order, the crucial question is whether the statute advances that objective in a manner consistent with the Equal Protection Clause. Because the statute discriminates among pickets based on the subject matter of their expression, the answer to that question must be "No." Pp. 470-471.

602 F.2d 791, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a concurring opinion, post p. 471. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 472


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Chicago: U.S. Supreme Court, "Syllabus," Carey v. Brown, 447 U.S. 455 (1980) in 447 U.S. 455 447 U.S. 456–447 U.S. 457. Original Sources, accessed March 29, 2023,

MLA: U.S. Supreme Court. "Syllabus." Carey v. Brown, 447 U.S. 455 (1980), in 447 U.S. 455, pp. 447 U.S. 456–447 U.S. 457. Original Sources. 29 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: U.S. Supreme Court, 'Syllabus' in Carey v. Brown, 447 U.S. 455 (1980). cited in 1980, 447 U.S. 455, pp.447 U.S. 456–447 U.S. 457. Original Sources, retrieved 29 March 2023, from