About The First Amendment Cases

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The First Amendment was created in 1791, which later added twenty seven more into present day that make up the Bill of Rights. Within the First Amendment, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech. (history.com, 2017) This Amendment gives the right of the people to peacefully assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances as well. In the United States Supreme Court, there have been well over a 100 cases argued that are in regards to the First Amendment. The First Amendment guarantees the right of the American people’s freedom of speech. This gives Americans the right to express themselves without having to worry about interference from the government. The United States Supreme Court consistently struggles to determine what types of speech are protected within the First Amendment. This classification is continually evolving due to the abundant amount of cases that arise in regard to the First Amendment. Among the immense amount of cases under the First Amendment, there are four very important landmark Supreme Court cases, out of thousands, in reference to the Freedom of Speech clause. Two of those cases, R.A.V v. City of St. Paul (1992) and Virginia v. Black et al (2003), deal with the issue of cross burning on personal property. The other two cases, Roth v. United States (1957) and Stanley v. Georgia (1969) dealt with the issue of owning and distributing obscenity. These cases share similarities under the First Amendment Freedom of Speech clause but differ on a factual basis. CASE: R.A.V v. City of St. Paul (1992) (Oyez, n.d) (LII / Legal Information Institute, 2018) (CaseBriefs LLC, n.d) (Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University, n.d) FACTS: In the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, several teenagers were reportedly burning cross on an African American family’s lawn. The local police charged one of the teens under a local bias-motivated criminal ordinance which prohibits the display of a symbol which arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, or gender. (Oyez, n.d) This case was argued on December 4th, 1991. The trial court dismissed this charge on the basis that the ordinance was substantially over-broad. (LII / Legal Information Institute, 2018) The state supreme court reversed this decision. R.A.V appealed to the U.S Supreme Court. QUESTION: Is the ordinance overly broad and in violation of the First amendment free speech clause? (Oyez, n.d) REASONING: The reasoning of the court was delivered by Justice Scalia. The ordinance was found to be content-based that it does not fall into an exception of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. (CaseBriefs LLC, n.d) Justice Byron White said The ordinance is unconstitutional because it is over-broad. Whilst Justice Harry Blackmun said The ordinance goes beyond regulating fighting words. (CaseBriefs LLC, n.d) The Court noted that it was bound by the Minnesota Supreme Court’s interpretation of the statute that the ordinance reached only fighting words.

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