Dombrowski v. Pfister Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 


Case Description 

Dombrowski v. Pfister is a government misconduct case brought in 1965 against the governor of Louisiana, law enforcement officers, and the chairperson of the state's Legislative Joint Committee on Un-American Activities for prosecuting or threatening to prosecute his organization under several state subversion statutes.

Dr. James Dombrowski and his companions argued that the Louisiana authorities were using anti-subversive laws to intimidate, harass, and jail citizens who were defending the rights of Black people. 

Dr. Dombrowski was the director of the Southern Conference Educational Fund and one of the few white southern leaders of the civil rights movement. He was arrested and charged because of his “subversive” actions which violated Louisiana statutes. His offices were raided and the police confiscated all documents and items. To defend his rights and the rights of others who were defending Black people, Dr. Dombrowski and his colleagues filed a complaint against the Louisiana Un-American Activities Committee and the New Orleans Police Department. In the complaint, they demanded an immediate return of all the files and property, and asked for $500,000 in damages against the conspirators.

After many setbacks at different levels of the court system, their hard work led them to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they persuaded a federal court to interfere with a state court proceeding and declare it unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution. This was a landmark case which upheld the rights of every individual established by the First Amendment.