The U.S. Supreme Court decision in United Association of Journeymen Plumbers and Steamfitters v. Graham, 345 U.S. 192 (1953) upheld a permanent injunction a Virginia court had issued against picketers whose purposes conflicted with Virginia’s Right to Work Statute.

Justice Harold H. Burton wrote the opinion of the Court that affirmed that Virginia could issue an injunction against picketing that conflicted with its right to work statute and affirmed that this picketing had done so. Unions had set up pickets in front of a school construction site that indicated that the project was employing nonunion members. The effect was that many union members refused to work at the site. Virginia’s Right to Work Statute provides that “neither membership nor non-membership in a labor union shall be made a condition of employment” and “that a contract limiting employment to union members is against public policy.” Given Burton’s belief that one of the purposes of the pickets had been to discourage such employment, he ruled that the state had the right to enjoin the picketing.

Justice Hugo L. Black dissented without writing an opinion. Justice William O. Douglas’s dissent argued that the union had done little more “than advertise to union men and union sympathizers that nonunion men were employed on the job.” He stressed, “Picketing is a form of free speech . . . entitled to constitutional protection.” He did not believe that the lower court had made adequate determination of fact as to the picket’s illegal purpose, and he further questioned whether the injunction had been “narrowly drawn.”

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