All Commentary
Friday, July 1, 1960

In Defense of Life and Property

Editor’s Note: When production employees, represented by Local Union No. 6 of the United Pack­inghouse Workers of America, called a strike on October 29, 1959 at the Albert Lea, Minnesota plant of Wilson & Co., Inc., the company undertook to continue operations with some of its supervisory and maintenance employees. Later, the company began to employ new workers to displace strikers re­fusing to return to work. Despite an order by the district court of Freeborn County enjoining the union from interfering with free access to the plant, picket lines had increased by December 10 to an estimated 1,000 or more per­sons, with threats and acts of vio­lence reported.

Early on December 11, 1959 the law enforcement officials of Al­bert Lea and of Freeborn County requested Minnesota Governor, Orville L. Freeman, to assume responsibility for law and order in the city and county and to tempo­rarily close the Wilson & Co. plant. That same day the governor pro­claimed martial law, closed the plant, and until further order sus­pended jurisdiction over the case by local courts.

Wilson & Company thereupon appealed, contending that Gov­ernor Freeman’s order of martial law should not include closing the company’s packing plant. Their cause was heard on December 16, 1959 at Minneapolis before a stat­utory court comprised of United States Circuit Judge John B. San­born and United States District Judges Edward J. Devitt and Gunnar H. Nordbye.

Portions of their ruling, as here presented, should be of in­terest and concern to all who be­lieve in the right to life and prop­erty under law.

No one will disagree that a seri­ous situation existed at or near plaintiff’s plant at Albert Lea when strikers and their sympa­thizers sought by mob violence to prevent some 300 persons from carrying on their lawful employ­ment with plaintiff.

Obviously, however, plaintiff was within its rights notwith­standing the strike in attempting to keep its plant in production and to afford employment to those per­sons who were willing to work.

Plaintiff is protected by the Con­stitution of the United States in its right to possess its property and to use it in any lawful man­ner that it may desire to pursue. Plaintiff cannot be held respon­sible for mob violence which was allegedly precipitated by its at­tempt to keep its plant open.

A strike by union workers does not prevent the employer from employing nonunion workers in its plant. That the laws of Min­nesota are enacted for the ex­press purpose of curbing viola­tions of law of the kind herein recounted is clear from the fol­lowing statutes:

“When three or more persons, having assembled for any pur­pose, shall disturb the public peace by using force or violence to any other person or to property, or shall threaten or attempt to com­mit such disturbance, or to do any unlawful act by the use of force or violence, accompanied by the power of immediate execution of such threat or attempt, they shall be guilty of a riot.” M.S.A. (Minnesota Statutes Annotated) 615.02.

“When three or more persons shall assemble with intent:

“To commit any unlawful act by force;

“To carry out any purpose in such a manner as to disturb the public peace; or

“Being assembled, shall attempt to threaten any act tending toward a breach of the peace or an injury to persons or property, or any un­lawful act

“Such an assembly is unlawful, and every person participating therein, by his presence, aid, or instigation, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” M.S.A. 615.04.

“Every person who shall remain present at the place of an unlaw­ful assembly, after having been warned to disperse by a magis­trate or public officer, unless as a public officer or at the request of any such officer he is assisting in dispersing the same, or in pro­tecting person or property or in arresting offenders, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” M.S.A. 615.05.

“Every person who enters into a combination with another to re­sist the execution of any legal process or other mandate of a court of competent jurisdiction, under circumstances not amount­ing to a riot, shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor.” M.S.A. 615.07.

“Every person who shall… throw any deadly missile, in a public place, or in any place where there is any person to be en­dangered, although no injury ac­tually results, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” M.S.A. 615.09.

“Any person who shall use in reference to and in the presence of another, or in reference to and in the presence of any member of the family of another, abusive or obscene language, intended, or naturally tending to provoke an assault or any breach of the peace, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” M.S.A. 615.15.

At the time the governor de­clared martial law, the local gov­ernment of the city of Albert Lea and the county of Freeborn was functioning. The courts were open, the citizens were moving freely in and about their daily pursuits without danger, except those who desired to continue with their work for plaintiff.

The district court of Freeborn county had issued restraining orders against mass picketing and violence, and contempt citations by reason of the violation of such orders had been set for hearing before the court, but without any attempt to call out the national guard in aid of the civil authori­ties in maintaining peace and order in the suppression of mob violence, the governor summarily declared martial law for the city of Albert Lea and the entire county of Freeborn.

The rights of the courts to pro­ceed against members of the mob by way of contempt were enjoined. The workers who desired to re­turn to their work at the plant were forbidden to return, and plaintiff’s right under the federal constitution to operate its plant was abrogated by the decree of the military.

Proceed Cautiously

We are not unmindful of the discretion which must necessarily rest in the governor of a state in determining whether martial law, with the resulting deprivation of constitutional rights, shall be im­posed upon any community. More­over, we recognize that courts should proceed cautiously before interfering with the acts of a governor of a sovereign state in determining that martial law is necessary in the state of which he is the chief executive and com­mander-in-chief of the armed forces of the state. We are also mindful of the necessity of preventing bloodshed and that prop­erty rights must at times be sacrificed in order to prevent the spilling of blood.

But a free people do not sur­render to mob rule by the ex­pediency of martial law until all means available to the city, county, and state to enforce the laws have proved futile. The imposition of the drastic action and the curtail­ment of constitutional rights of citizens of a state resulting from a declaration of martial law, can­not be sustained except in situa­tions of dire necessity.

We are convinced that that situ­ation has not as yet arisen in Freeborn county.

The governor possesses no ab­solute authority to declare martial law. Military rule cannot be im­posed upon a community simply because it may seem to be more expedient than to enforce the law by using the national guard to aid the local civil authorities.

As this court stated in Strut-wear Knitting Company v. Olson….

“The state has no more im­portant interest than the main­tenance of law and order… It is as much the duty of the state to protect property from destruction by mob violence and to preserve the liberty of the citizen to use his property lawfully as it is to protect the same property from theft or arson. No official intrusted with the enforcement of the law can select the laws which he will enforce or the citizens that he will protect. He has sworn to enforce all laws and to protect all citizens, and there is no escape for him ‘from the paramount au­thority of the Federal Constitu­tion.’…

“The fact that a large group of individuals may have a grievance, just or unjust, against an owner of property will not warrant a resort to violence to remedy that grievance, nor will the hazard, in­convenience, and expense involved in suppressing the violence justify the state in refusing to enforce the law or in depriving the owner of his property or his right to enjoy it. To say that, because the lawful use of property will incite lawless persons to commit crimes and to destroy life and property, such lawful use must be sup­pressed, is to say that the will of a mob, and not the Constitution of the United States, has become the supreme law of the land.”

But it is urged that the gov­ernor’s judgment as to the meas­ures necessary to be taken to suppress the mob should not be questioned by the courts and in absence of arbitrary, capricious conduct on his part in declaring martial law, the courts are im­potent to stay his hand. However, there is an utter absence of any persuasive showing here that law enforcement could not be main­tained in the city of Albert Lea and in the county of Freeborn by the national guard available to the governor in aid of the local au­thorities.

Moreover, we cannot subscribe to the principle or doctrine that a governor of a state may bow to the demands of a law-violating mob that a plant under strike shall be closed when neither the local nor state authorities have used all the means available to them to suppress the mob by in­voking enforcement of the laws of the state enacted to be enforced under such circumstances.

Peace and order may be re­stored by acceding to the demands of the mob, but at the sacrifice of law. Such expedient measures would encourage and breed mob rule and law violations in every labor dispute. No citizen would be secure in the peaceful possession of his property.

By way of analogy, let us as­sume a situation that not infre­quently arises in our country. Racial hatred, for instance, against so-called minority citizens moving into a community, with the re­sulting demand that such citizens leave the neighborhood, often in­cites mob action. If the violence could not be suppressed by local authorities, a governor could im­pose martial law and the military could issue an order that the in­nocent citizens leave the neighbor­hood because if they did so, peace and tranquility would prevail.

Rights Surrendered

Lawlessness in this manner could be suppressed, but it would be obtained by compelling the vic­tims of such lawlessness to sur­render their constitutional rights so precious to all freedom-loving people.

It is entirely understandable that the local officials of the city of Albert Lea and the county of Freeborn when they met on the evening of December 10 were greatly exercised and concerned as to what might happen on the following day in light of the mob violence which had already taken place at plaintiff’s plant, and that that concern prompted the promul­gation of the petition to the gov­ernor for aid.

But when the military moved into the city on the morning of December 11, it must have been apparent that in this local labor dispute the state of Minnesota was not required to surrender to mob violence. Under the factual presentation herein, it would be a shocking reflection on the stabil­ity of our state government if the state could not quell the mob action in Freeborn county without declaring martial law and decree­ing the deprivation of constitu­tional rights of those who are the victims of the lawlessness….

A declaration of martial law connotes the disintegration of the local and state government which has been created to maintain peace and order under civil rule. Under martial law, all constitutional rights could conceivably be abol­ished.

There could be no freedom of the press, freedom of speech, free­dom of assembly, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and all courts could be abolished except the military courts estab­lished by the military.

The abdication of our civil form of government to military rule, with the seizure of private prop­erty in contravention of federal constitutional rights, cannot be sustained on this record.



Ideas on Liberty

There Must Be Freedom

The most drastic deprivation which any person can suffer is that of the freedom to utilize and enjoy the faculties which nature has given him and which his will and desire have developed. Keep a man from exercising his mind, his body, his faculties in the pursuit of his own wishes and delights, keep him from enjoying the fruits of his efforts—and you have done everything evil to him that you can. The greatest desire of each person, in short, is to be free to get the most he can out of life. There is no other way objectively to define social goals than to call them the sum of those individual goals which can be harmonized in society.

SYLVESTER PETRO, The Labor Policy of the Free Society