The Vinson Court (1946–53)

First Amendment

In what case did the U.S. Supreme Court invalidate a breach-of-the-peace conviction on First Amendment grounds?

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a breach-of-the-peace conviction by a 5–4 vote in Terminiello v. City of Chicago (1949). Police charged Arthur Terminiello with breach of the peace after he delivered a speech in an auditorium denouncing several political and racial groups. Terminiello’s speech apparently led to many disturbances in the crowd. A trial court convicted him because he had stirred the public to anger and invited disputes. The Court majority reversed his conviction in an opinion written by Justice William O. Douglas, who wrote that “a function of free speech under our system is to invite dispute.” He explained: “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.”


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