National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie

National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977), arising out of what is sometimes referred to as the Skokie Affair,[1] was a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court dealing with freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. This case is considered a "classic" free speech case in constitutional law classes.[2] Related court decisions are captioned Skokie v. NSPA, Collin v. Smith,[3] and Smith v. Collin.[4] The Supreme Court ruled 5–4, per curiam.[5][6] The Supreme Court's 1977 ruling granted certiorari and reversed and remanded the Illinois Supreme Court's denial to lift the lower court's injunction on the NSPA's march.[7] In other words: the courts decided a person's assertion that speech is being restrained must be reviewed immediately by the judiciary.[8] By requiring the state court to consider the neo-Nazis' appeal without delay, the U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door to allowing the National Socialist Party of America to march.

National Socialist Party v. Skokie
Decided June 14, 1977
Full case nameNational Socialist Party of America et al. v. Village of Skokie
Docket no.76-1786
Citations432 U.S. 43 (more)
97 S. Ct. 2205; 53 L. Ed. 2d 96; 1977 U.S. LEXIS 113; 2 Media L. Rep. 1993
Case history
SubsequentOn remand, Vill. of Skokie v. Nat'l Socialist Party of Am., 51 Ill. App. 3d 279, 366 N.E.2d 347 (1977); affirmed in part, reversed in part, 69 Ill. 2d 605, 373 N.E.2d 21 (1978).
If a state seeks to impose an injunction in the face of a substantial claim of First Amendment rights, it must provide strict procedural safeguards, including immediate appellate review. Absent such immediate review, the appellate court must grant a stay of any lower court order restricting the exercise of speech and assembly rights.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Potter Stewart
Byron White · Thurgood Marshall
Harry Blackmun · Lewis F. Powell Jr.
William Rehnquist · John P. Stevens
Case opinions
Per curiam
DissentRehnquist, joined by Burger, Stewart
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. I, XIV



Before the Skokie Affair, Frank Collin and his neo-Nazi group, the NSPA, would regularly hold demonstrations in Marquette Park, where the NSPA was headquartered. However, the Chicago authorities would eventually block these plans by requiring the NSPA to post a $350,000 public safety insurance bond and by banning political demonstrations in Marquette Park.[9][10] While Collin filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago for a violation of his first amendment rights, he realized that this case would get tied up in the courts for far longer than he was willing to wait to begin marching again.[11]

On October 4, 1976, Collin sent out letters to the park districts of the North Shore suburbs of Chicago, requesting permits for the NSPA to hold a white power demonstration.[11][12] While some suburbs chose to ignore their letter, Skokie—home to a significant number of Jewish people, many of them survivors of the Holocaust[13]—chose to respond.[14] At first, the Skokie mayor and Village Council intended to allow the NSPA to demonstrate; the village's tactic was to ignore them, in order to give the NSPA as little publicity as possible.[15][16] The Jewish community found this unacceptable and held meetings throughout the month of April to discuss the matter. The mayor and the Village Council heard their concerns and on April 27, 1977, ordered village attorney, Harvey Schwartz, to seek an injunction.[16]

In addition to filing an injunction, the Village of Skokie passed three ordinances on May 2, 1977 in an attempt to prevent all future events which would be like the march which the NSPA had requested permission to stage.[17] One states that people could not wear military-style uniforms during demonstrations.[18][19] The two other ordinances prohibited the distribution of material containing hate speech and a required a $350,000 insurance bond to hold a demonstration.[19][20] These ordinances rendered it impossible for the NSPA to be able to hold the event.[18]

Collin used both the injunction and ordinances as an opportunity to claim infringement upon his First Amendment rights and subsequently wanted to protest in Skokie for the NSPA's right to free speech.[21] On March 20, 1977, Collin notified the Chief of Police and Park District of the NSPA's intentions to protest for their right to free speech on May 1.[15][22] In the letters, he stated that about 30–50 members planned to demonstrate outside of the Village Hall from about 3–3:30 p.m. and they planned to hold up signs demanding free speech for white men, including the phrases "White Free Speech", "Free Speech for White Americans", and "Free Speech for the White Men".[15][22]

Collin sent another letter which contained the same details on June 22, 1977, that letter also stated that Collin was planning to stage a protest on July 4 from 12:00–12:30pm.[23]

Preceding lower court cases


The case began in the local Cook County court, when the Village government successfully sued, under the caption Village of Skokie v. NSPA, for an injunction to bar the demonstration. On April 28, 1977, village attorney Schwartz filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County for an emergency injunction against the march to be held on May 1, 1977. The injunction was granted, prohibiting marchers at the proposed Skokie rally from wearing Nazi uniforms or displaying swastikas.[24] On behalf of the NSPA, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the injunction. The ACLU assigned civil rights attorneys David Goldberger[18][25] and Burton Joseph to Collin's cases.[26][27] The ACLU argued that the injunction violated the First Amendment rights of the marchers to express themselves. The ACLU challenge was unsuccessful at the lower court level.

The ACLU appealed on behalf of NSPA, but both the Illinois Appellate Court and the Illinois Supreme Court refused to expedite the case or to stay the injunction. The ACLU then appealed that refusal to the Supreme Court of the United States.[5]

Supreme Court ruling and subsequent cases


On June 14, 1977, the Supreme Court ordered Illinois to hold a hearing on their ruling against the National Socialist Party of America, emphasizing that "if a State seeks to impose a restraint on First Amendment rights, it must provide strict procedural safeguards, including immediate appellate review. ... Absent such review, the State must instead allow a stay. The order of the Illinois Supreme Court constituted a denial of that right."[5] On remand, the Illinois Supreme Court sent the case back to the Illinois Appellate Court. The Appellate Court ruled per curiam on July 11, 1977 that the swastika was not protected by the First Amendment.[28][29] In other words, the NSPA could march, but they could not display the swastika during their march.[30][31]

In its full review of the case, the Illinois Supreme Court focused on the First Amendment implications of the display of the swastika. Skokie attorneys argued that for Holocaust survivors, seeing the swastika was like being physically attacked. The state supreme court rejected that argument, ruling that display of the swastika is a symbolic form of free speech entitled to First Amendment protections and determined that the swastika itself did not constitute "fighting words".[32] Its ruling allowed the National Socialist Party of America to march.

In parallel litigation in the federal courts, under the caption Collin v. Smith, the village's ordinance was declared unconstitutional, first by the district court[33] and then by divided vote of the Seventh Circuit court of appeals.[3] Over a published dissent by Justice Blackmun (joined by Justice White) giving a detailed history of the case and an overview of the issues involved, the U.S. Supreme Court denied further review.[4]

Effect of the decision


In the summer of 1978, in response to the Supreme Court's decision, some Holocaust survivors set up a museum on the Main Street of Skokie to commemorate those who had died in the concentration camps. The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center remains open today, having been moved to a new permanent location on Woods Drive in 2009.

Ultimately, the NSPA failed to carry through its march in Skokie, marching in Chicago instead when they had gained permission. From a legal point of view,[according to whom?] the litigation left undecided, at the Supreme Court level, whether such older precedents as Beauharnais v. Illinois and Terminiello v. City of Chicago remain authoritative statements of how the First Amendment applies to provocative and intimidating hate speech expressing fascist or racist ideas.[34] According to Nadine Strossen, the case was part of a gradual process in the 20th century where the Court strengthened First Amendment protections and narrowed down the application of earlier decisions which upheld restrictions of free speech, in part due to the realisation that the Illinois restrictions on Nazi "hate speech" were so broad they could have been equally used to prohibit Martin Luther King Jr. demonstrations in Skokie.[35]

Cultural reference


This case is obliquely referenced in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers. In the film, Jake Blues asks a police officer, "Hey, what's going on?" The policeman bitterly replies, "Ah, those bums won their court case so they're marching today." To which Jake asks "What bums?" The officer replies, "The fucking Nazi Party." Jake then says, "Illinois Nazis. I hate Illinois Nazis." Elwood Blues then proceeds to drive the car which he and Jake are in towards the marchers at high speed, the marchers are stationary and they are also standing in formation, located on a bridge, the speeding car causes the marchers to jump off the bridge and land in the body of water which is located below the bridge.[36] For the rest of the movie, the Nazis try to track down the Blue Brothers in a quest for revenge, but fail miserably.

The case was also heavily featured in the 2020 film Mighty Ira, which profiles the life and career of Ira Glasser, who defended the rights of neo-Nazis to rally in Skokie.[37]

See also



  1. ^ "Frank Colllin, et al. v. Albert Smith, et al". Skokie Public Library. Retrieved August 4, 2018.
  2. ^ Strum, Philippa (1999). When the Nazis came to Skokie : freedom for speech we hate. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas. p. 2. ISBN 978-0700609406. OCLC 39936668.
  3. ^ a b Collin v. Smith, 578 F.2d 1197 (7th Cir. 1978).
  4. ^ a b Smith v. Collin, 439 U.S. 916 (1978) (denying certiorari).
  5. ^ a b c National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977) (per curiam).
  6. ^ "ILLINOIS HIGH COURT SANCTIONS SWASTIKAS IN NAZI PARTY MARCH; Justices 'Reluctantly' Overturn Ban on Demonstration in Skokie, Citing Free Speech Rights Appellate Court Upset Illinois Court Sanctions Swastikas". The New York Times. January 28, 1978. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  7. ^ Oelsner, Lesley (June 16, 1977). "High Court Upsets a Ban in Illinois On Parade by Nazi-Styled Group". The New York Times. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  8. ^ Hamlin, David (1980). The Nazi/Skokie Conflict: A Civil Liberties Battle. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 87.
  9. ^ Grossman, Ron (March 12, 2017). "The Neo-Nazis Vs. Skokie Corrected 03/15/2017]". The Chicago Tribune.
  10. ^ Lyon, Jeff (June 13, 1976). "Marquette Park-'little men,' big trouble". Chicago Tribune.
  11. ^ a b Hamlin, David (1980). The Nazi/Skokie conflict : a civil liberties battle. Mazal Holocaust Collection. Boston: Beacon Press. pp. 19–22. ISBN 978-0807032305. OCLC 6734784.
  12. ^ Collin, Frank (October 4, 1976). "Letter from Frank Collin to Skokie Park District, October 4, 1976 :: Skokie's Attempted Nazi March Archive". Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  13. ^ Strum, Philippa (1999). When the Nazis came to Skokie: freedom for speech we hate. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas. p. 7. ISBN 978-0700609406. OCLC 39936668.
  14. ^ Weinberg, Arthur (February 1, 1981). "The Neo-Nazi Battle with Skokie: As Dispatch from the Legal Front". Chicago Tribune.
  15. ^ a b c Conroy, John (June 11, 1978). "Ugliness and swastikas in Skokie". Boston Globe.
  16. ^ a b Strum, Philippa (1999). When the Nazis came to Skokie: freedom for speech we hate. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas. pp. 17–21. ISBN 978-0700609406. OCLC 39936668.
  17. ^ "Skokie passes three ordinances". Skokie Public Library Digital Collections. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  18. ^ a b c Warden, Rob (June 30, 1977). "Nazis' March in Skokie, Ill., Stirs Emotion". The Washington Post.
  19. ^ a b Barnett, Brett A. (2007). Untangling the web of hate: are online "hate sites" deserving of First Amendment protection?. Youngstown, N.Y.: Cambria Press. p. 91. ISBN 9781934043912. OCLC 818658372.
  20. ^ Dubey, Diane; Bernstein, Al (June 16, 1977). "Nazis now plan July 4 demonstration in Skokie". Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  21. ^ Grossman, Ron (March 12, 2017). "The Neo-Nazis Vs. Skokie Corrected 03/15/2017]". The Chicago Tribune.
  22. ^ a b Strum, Philippa (1999). When the Nazis came to Skokie: freedom for speech we hate. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas. pp. 16–17. ISBN 978-0700609406. OCLC 39936668.
  23. ^ "Letter to Village Manager John Matzer, Jr. from Frank Collin, June 22, 1977 · Skokie History Digital Collections". Retrieved December 9, 2018.
  24. ^ "Village of Skokie v. National Socialist Party of America, et al., Docket No 77-2702, Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, Chancery Division". Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  25. ^ "New Film Explores Skokie's Battle with Neo-Nazis". Chicago Tonight.
  26. ^ Grimes, William (April 4, 2010). "Burton Joseph, Lawyer in First Amendment Cases, Is Dead at 79". The New York Times. p. A22.
  27. ^ Burnette, Daarel (April 1, 2010). "Burton Joseph, 1930-2010: Attorney championed civil rights". Chicago Tribune.
  28. ^ Kneeland, Douglas E. (July 22, 1977). "Troubles Multiply for Nazi Leader in Chicago Suburb". The New York Times.
  29. ^ Dubey, Diane (July 14, 1977). "No swastikas allowed: Lift march injuction". Skokie Life. Retrieved December 9, 2018.
  30. ^ "High court judge upholds ban on swastikas in Skokie march". The Chicago Tribune. August 27, 1977.
  31. ^ Strum, Philippa (1999). When the Nazis came to Skokie : freedom for speech we hate. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas. p. 77. ISBN 978-0700609406. OCLC 39936668.
  32. ^ Village of Skokie v. Nat'l Socialist Party of America, 69 Ill.2d 605, 373 N.E.2d 21 (1978).
  33. ^ Collin v. Smith, 447 F. Supp. 676 (N.D. Ill. 1978).
  34. ^ Bell, Jeannine (2009). "Restraining the Heartless: Racist Speech and Minority Rights". Rochester, NY. SSRN 1618848. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  35. ^ Strossen, Nadine (2018). Hate: why we should resist it with free speech, not censorship. New York, NY. ISBN 978-0-19-085912-1. OL 26883438M.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  36. ^ Mailland, Julien (2013). Written at Michigan, United States. "The Blues Brothers and the American Constitutional Protection of Hate Speech: Teaching the Meaning of the First Amendment to Foreign Audiences". Michigan State Law Review. 21 (2). College of Law, Michigan State University, Michigan, United States: Michigan State University: 451–460. Archived from the original on January 3, 2024. Retrieved January 3, 2024.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  37. ^ Linden, Sheri (October 7, 2020). "'Mighty Ira': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 30, 2024.

Further reading