The Warren Court (1953–69)

Freedom of Expression

What did the Warren Court rule with respect to “true threats”?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Watts v. United States (1969) that true threats are not entitled to First Amendment protection. However, the Court reversed the conviction of Robert Watts because it found that his statements amounted to mere “political hyperbole.” Watts was prosecuted because he allegedly said at a protest: “I am not going. If they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sights is L.B.J. They are not going to make me kill my black brothers.” For this statement, Watts was charged and convicted of threatening the president of the United States (who, at the time, was Lyndon B. Johnson). The Court agreed with Watts that his statement was “a kind of very crude offensive method of stating political opposition to the President.”

French actress Jeanne Moreau appeared in the film Les Amants (The Lovers), the source of the Supreme Court trial Jacobellis v. Ohio. Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

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