By Rebekah Alvey and Emma Austin, F/G Scholars
In 1977, the population of Skokie, Illinois, was over half Jewish. When leader of the National Socialist “Nazi” Party of America Frank Collin informed the Skokie police chief the party was planning a march in the village, the news traveled fast.
Nazi party members allegedly made phone calls to some of the town’s residents whose names sounded Jewish, and media coverage made the plans common knowledge around Skokie. The demonstrators said they would cooperate with reasonable police instructions and would not make derogatory public statements. An anti-protest was planned, and police were warned it may not be contained.
The Cook County District Court held a hearing on a motion by the Village of Skokiefor a preliminary injunction. The court took a letter Collin had written to Skokie officials about what exactly the demonstration would consist of and treated it as an affidavit. Then, the court heard testimonies of several Skokie residents, including one who said Jewish organizations in the community were planning a counter demonstration and if Nazi demonstrators were present, violence could occur.
The Cook County District Court entered an enjoining order disallowing the Nazi Party from marching, walking, parading or displaying the swastika on May 1, the day on which the party had scheduled the march to occur.
The Nazi Party applied to the Illinois appellate court for a stay of the injunction, which the court denied. On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court also denied the petition.
The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which said in a per curiam opinion that Illinois could not deny the Nazis’ request for a stay and must provide “strict procedural safeguards, including appellate review” to deny a stay for an injunction denying First Amendment rights. The federal court treated the denial of the stay as final judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.
The prohibition was eventually modified and reversed on appeal, but judgment reiterated that there is a heavy burden needed to be met to allow prior restraint. The Appellate Court found that swastikas are not protected speech because they are inherently likely to provoke a violent reaction among the Jewish community, but the Illinois Suprreme Court reversed this, concluding that display of the swastika could not be precluded solely because it might provoke violence, particularly in cases where there has been a forewarning that such symbols will be displayed.
In this case, the Nazis were defended by the American Civil Liberties Union because of its relevance to free speech issues.
In the end, the Nazis never marched in Skokie, going instead to the streets of Chicago, where they didn’t face any trouble with injunction.