17 March 2016

Supreme Court on Chicago Thug Tactics and Free Speech

Full case hereEmphases mine.

U.S. Supreme Court
Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949)

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner after jury trial was found guilty of disorderly conduct in violation of a city ordinance of Chicago, and fined. The case grew out of an address he delivered in an auditorium in Chicago under the auspices of the Christian Veterans of America. The meeting commanded considerable public attention. The auditorium was filled to capacity, with over eight hundred persons present. Others were turned away. Outside of the auditorium, a crowd of about one thousand persons gathered to protest against the meeting. A cordon of policemen was assigned to the meeting to maintain order, but they were not able to prevent several disturbances. The crowd outside was angry and turbulent.

Petitioner, in his speech, condemned the conduct of the crowd outside and vigorously, if not viciously, criticized various political and racial groups whose activities he denounced as inimical to the nation's welfare.

The trial court charged that "breach of the peace" consists of any "misbehavior which violates the public peace and decorum", and that the "misbehavior may constitute a breach of the peace if it stirs the public to anger, invites dispute, brings about a condition of unrest, or creates a disturbance, or if it molests the inhabitants in the enjoyment of peace and quiet by arousing alarm."

Petitioner did not take exception to that instruction. But he maintained at all times that the ordinance, as applied to his conduct, violated his right of free speech under the Federal Constitution. The Judgment of conviction was affirmed by the Illinois Appellate Court (332 Ill.App. 17, 74 N.E.2d 45) and by the Illinois Supreme Court. 396 Ill. 41, 71 N.E.2d 2; 400 Ill. 23, 79 N.E.2d 39. The case is here on a petition for certiorari, which we granted because of the importance of the question presented.


The vitality of civil and political institutions in our society depends on free discussion. As Chief Justice Hughes wrote in De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U. S. 353, 299 U. S. 365, it is only through free debate and free exchange of ideas that government remains responsive to the will of the people and peaceful change is effected. The right to speak freely and to promote diversity of ideas and programs is therefore one of the chief distinctions that sets us apart from totalitarian regimes.

Accordingly, a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech, though not absolute, Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, supra, pp. 315 U. S. 571-572, is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest. See Bridges v. California, 314 U. S. 252, 314 U. S. 262; Craig v. Harney, 331 U. S. 367, 331 U. S. 373. There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view. For the alternative would lead to standardization of ideas either by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups.

The ordinance as construed by the trial court seriously invaded this province. It permitted conviction of petitioner if his speech stirred people to anger, invited public dispute, or brought about a condition of unrest. A conviction resting on any of those grounds may not stand.



Of course, this decision was issued when the rule of law was still alive. It's author has obviously not tried to discuss anything of substance with anyone on Facebook.

In the wake of the Chicago mob, the reaction of Cruz, Rubio and Kasich was to blame the victim, and called for censorship of unpopular ideas. But these are all honorable men...

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