APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI.
Warren, Black, Douglas, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Fortas, Marshall.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
Appellants brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief in the District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. They sought a judgment declaring that the Mississippi Anti-Picketing Law*fn1 is an overly
broad and vague regulation of expression, and therefore void on its face. They also sought a permanent injunction restraining appellees -- the Governor and other Mississippi officials -- from enforcing the statute in pending or future criminal prosecutions or otherwise, alleging that the then pending prosecutions against them for violating the statute*fn2 were part of a plan of selective enforcement engaged in by appellees with no expectation of securing convictions, but solely to discourage appellants from picketing to protest racial discrimination in voter registration and to encourage Negro citizens to attempt to register to vote.
A three-judge court initially considered the issues on the amended complaint and answers, and dismissed the complaint "in the exercise of its sound judicial discretion" and "in furtherance of the doctrine of abstention," having concluded "that such extraordinary relief is not due or suggested in this case. . . ." 244 F.Supp. 846, 849. We vacated the dismissal, 381 U.S. 741, and remanded for reconsideration in light of our intervening decision in Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479.*fn3 On remand the three-judge
court*fn4 conducted an evidentiary hearing and again dismissed, this time with prejudice. 262 F.Supp. 873. We noted probable jurisdiction. 389 U.S. 809. We affirm.
The Mississippi Anti-Picketing Law was enacted by the Mississippi Legislature and signed by the Governor on April 8, 1964, and became effective immediately. The Forrest County voting registration office is housed in the county courthouse in Hattiesburg. The courthouse is set back a distance from the street and is reached by several paved walks surrounding grass plots and a monument. On January 22, 1964, civil rights organizations fostering increased voter registration of Negro citizens staged a large demonstration on the courthouse site. Thereafter they maintained a picket line on the grounds every day except Sunday from January 23 until May 18, 1964. To facilitate access to the courthouse the sheriff at the outset blocked off with barricades a small "march route" area within the grounds to the right of the main entrance to the courthouse, where the pickets, usually few in number, were allowed to picket until April 9. On April 9, the day following the enactment of the Anti-Picketing Law, the sheriff accompanied by other county
officials, read the new law to the pickets at the "march route" and directed them to disperse, which they did. The sheriff also removed the barricades marking the "march route." On the morning of April 10, the pickets, now increased to 35 or 40 persons, appeared at the courthouse and resumed picketing along the now unmarked "march route." The pickets were arrested and formally charged with violation of the Anti-Picketing statute. Others were arrested that afternoon. Seven more pickets were arrested and charged on the morning of April 11. The complaint in this action was filed April 13. Picketing nonetheless continued on the "march route" every day until May 18, but no further arrests were made until May 18, when nine pickets were arrested and charged. All picketing stopped thereafter.
The District Court's response on the remand to reconsider the case in light of Dombrowski was first to render a declaratory judgment, cf. Zwickler v. Koota, 389 U.S. 241,*fn5 that the statute was not void on its face, rejecting appellants' contention that it is so broad, vague, indefinite, and lacking in definitely ascertainable standards as to be unconstitutional on its face. We agree with the District Court.
Appellants advance a two-pronged argument. First, they argue that the statute forbids picketing in terms
"so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application . . . ." Connally v. General Construction Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391.*fn6 But the statute prohibits only "picketing . . . in such a manner as to obstruct or unreasonably interfere with free ingress or egress to and from any . . . county . . . courthouses . . . ." The terms "obstruct" and "unreasonably interfere" plainly require no "guess[ing] at [their] meaning." Appellants focus on the word "unreasonably."*fn7 It is a widely used and well understood word and clearly so when juxtaposed with "obstruct" and "interfere." We conclude that the statute clearly and precisely delineates its reach in words of common understanding.*fn8 It is "a precise and narrowly drawn regulatory statute evincing a legislative judgment that certain specific conduct be . . . proscribed." Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 236.
The second prong of appellants' argument is that the statute, even assuming that it is "lacking neither clarity nor precision, is void for 'overbreadth,' that is, that it offends the ...