For Throwback Thursday, I decided to write about a First Amendment lawsuit the Northeast Philadelphia and South Jersey String Bands brought against the City of Philadelphia and all of the string bands in the Philadelphia New Year Shooters and Mummers Association.
The Northeast Philadelphia String Band was formed in February 1980, and applied to participate in the 1981 Mummers Parade. For the 1981 parade, the City of Philadelphia adopted rules stating that no new bands would be admitted to the parade, except to fill vacancies. The City justified these restrictions as necessary to end the parade before dark, thus protecting public safety. When the Recreation Commissioner failed to admit Northeast Philadelphia String Band to the parade, the band filed suit in the federal district court.
The Northeast Philadelphia String Band alleged that the admission policy violated its First Amendment rights of free expression and association by preventing it from performing in the Mummers parade and by penalizing musicians who chose to join the new band rather than remaining in an older, established band.
In 1981, the South Jersey String Band was formed and when denied admission to the 1982 Mummers Parade, joined in the litigation commenced by the Northeast Philadelphia String Band.
Even though the Recreation Commissioner denied Northeast Philadelphia and South Jersey String Bands from participating, the court issued two injunctions that allowed Northeast Philadelphia to participate in the 1981 and 1982 parades, and South Jersey in the 1982 Mummers parade.
In the summer of 1982, the case was argued in the United States Court of Appeals, 3rd Circuit and the case was decided by September 1982. The court struck down the City’s admission rules as an invalid infringement of the bands’ freedom of expression.
Even though the Northeast Philadelphia String Band won in the court room, they never placed higher than 18th. The Northeast Philadelphia String Band disbanded after the 1986 Mummers Parade.
The South Jersey String Band marched in the Mummers Parade from 1982-1989. In 1990, the South Jersey String Band merged with the Palmyra String Band and surprised most Mummers fans by coming in 2nd place. The Palmyra/South Jersey String Band disbanded after the 1993 Mummers Parade.