Free Speech And Fighting Words Doctrine

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Free Speech and Fighting Words It’ unanimous! With those two words, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that ‘fighting words’ were not protected under the constitution and etched out an exception to the First Amendment known as the Fighting Words Doctrine (Clark). The doctrine came out of the 1942 Chaplinsky v New Hampshire. New Hampshire State court found Chaplinsky guilty under its public law that “prohibited another person from expressing offensive, derisive and annoying words and names to anyone else in a public place” (Hudson) commonly referred to as ‘fighting words.’ Chaplinsky did not deny shouting to Bowering [the City Marshall,] “you are a God damned racketeer" and "a damned Fascist and the whole government of Rochester are Fascists…show more content…
Brennan wrote in his brief for the majority that the statute was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad and that, "the separation of legitimate from illegitimate speech calls for more sensitive tools than (Georgia) has supplied” (Oyez). Words and their effect on people continue to be tried in the courts. Soon after, in the case of Lewis v City of New Orleans, Mallie Lewis was convicted of obscene or opprobrious language to a police officer (Hudson). Justice Brennan determined that Georgia law infringed on Lewis’ First Amendment rights because it was not confined to fighting words. In his ruling, Brennan stated the words alone would not inflict injury, immediately incite, or lead to violence. Brennan wrote that the Louisiana Supreme Court had failed to limit its ruling to just fighting words…show more content…
v City of St. Paul (Hudson). The R.A.V and other conspirators made and burned a cross inside the fenced yard of a black family. St. Paul charged R.A.V. using the Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance. St. Paul’s reasoning was that this symbolic speech resonate hatred, and fear. The trial court dismissed the charge because this case was excessively broad, but the State Supreme Court reversed the decision. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled St. Paul’s Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance was held unconstitutional because it was substantially overbroad and impermissibly content-based. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his “the exclusion of ‘fighting words’ from the scope of the First Amendment simply means that, for purposes of that Amendment, the unprotected features of the words are, despite their verbal character, essentially a ‘non-speech’ element of communication.”

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