The Supreme Court decision in American Radio Association, AFL-CIO v. Mobile Steamship Association, 419 U.S. 215 (1974), held that an Alabama court’s injunction against picketing of foreign-flagged ships for alleged substandard treatment of their crewmembers did not violate the free-expression rights guaranteed by the First and 14th Amendments.

The opinion, written by Justice William H. Rehnquist, focused chiefly on the issue of whether Alabama was precluded from intervening on the basis that the action involved a commercial matter pre-empted by federal action under the National Labor Relations Act, originally adopted in 1935. Rehnquist indicated that the decision rejecting the idea of such pre-emption in Windward Shipping v. American Radio Association,AFL-CIO (1974) applied to this case.

Having so decided, Rehnquist noted that Alabama had an expressed policy prohibiting secondary boycotts and that the injunction in question furthered this policy. The Alabama Supreme Court had relied on Teamsters Union v. Vogt, Inc. (1957) to conclude that “if the picketing compromised valid public policies, it was not protected by its putative purpose of conveying information.” Rehnquist observed that “Vogt endorsed the view that picketing involves more than an expression of ideas.” It had also established that states had a “broad field” of action in such cases. Rehnquist further denied that the opinion in Amalgamated Food Employees Local Union 590 v. LoganValley Plaza (1968) permitting picketing in this case because Logan Valley involved “the location of the picketing, not its purpose.”

Justice William O. Douglas’s dissent focused on what he considered to be the adverse environmental impact of foreign-flagged ships. Justice Potter Stewart based his dissent, joined by Douglas and two other justices, on his belief that the issues affected commerce and thus fell under the authority of the National Labor Relations Board not the states.

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