Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether the distribution of a racist leaflet, in violation of a state criminal libel statute, was protected under the First Amendment.


The Supreme Court affirmed the Illinois Supreme Court and held that the state law was not in violation of the First Amendment.


Beauharnais produced a leaflet that called on the Mayor and City Council of Chicago “to halt the further encroachment, harassment and invasion of white people, their property, neighborhoods and persons, by the Negro.” The leaflet also called for the use of violence to further this goal. Beauharnais was charged under an Illinois law prohibiting exposing “any race, color, creed or religion to contempt, derision, or obloquy[.]”

Importance of Case

The Supreme Court held that the speech the Illinois law prohibited was akin to libel and so outside First Amendment protection.

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