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Garner v. Louisiana
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued October 18–19, 1961
Decided December 11, 1961
Full case name John Burrell Garner, et al. v. State of Louisiana, Mary Briscoe, et al.
Citations 368 U.S. 157 (more)
82 S. Ct. 248; 7 L. Ed. 2d 207; 1961 U.S. LEXIS 28
Prior history Certiorari to the Supreme Court of Louisiana
The convictions were so totally devoid of evidentiary support as to violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Warren, joined by unanimous
Concurrence Frankfurter
Concurrence Douglas
Concurrence Harlan
Laws applied
United States Constitution, Amendment XIV

Garner v. Louisiana, 368 U.S. 157 (1961), was an important civil rights case argued by Thurgood Marshall before the Supreme Court. On December 11, 1961, the court unanimously ruled that Louisiana could not convict peaceful sit-in protesters who refused to leave dining establishments under the state's "disturbing the peace" laws.


African-American students from Southern University sat at a "whites only" segregated lunch bar at Sitman's Drugstore in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The manager called the Police after the students quietly remained even though they were asked to move to another counter. After ordering the black patrons to leave, the Police arrested them and charged them with disturbing the peace. The claim was that their behavior could "foreseeably disturb or alarm the public," according to the state's "disturbing the peace" statute.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People defended the student demonstrators as did the Kennedy administration's Justice Department, which filed a legal brief on their behalf.

Opinion of the Court

In a 9-0 decision, the court ruled in the African-American students' favor, arguing the state violated due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment and finding there was no evidence the students' behavior could have foreseeably disturbed the peace. In his written opinion, Justice John Marshall Harlan compared sit-in demonstrations to verbal expression as a form of free speech. Justice William O. Douglas in his concurring opinion said, “For the police are supposed to be on the side of the Constitution, not on the side of discrimination. Yet if all constitutional questions are to be put aside and the problem treated merely in terms of disturbing the peace, I would have difficulty in reversing these judgments. I think, however, the constitutional questions must be reached and that they make reversal necessary.” Garner v. Louisiana was an important case for the Civil Rights Movement, and one of many civil rights cases argued before the Warren Court (1953-69). Eventually, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce."

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