Legal Principle at Issue
Do statutory "disturbance of the peace" and "obstruction of public passageways" convictions, for a peaceable demonstration that contains speech that may potentially incite violence, infringe on a demonstrator's First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly?
The Supreme Court held that the “disturbing the peace” law was unconstitutionally vague and the “obstructing public passages” conviction violated Cox’s 1st and 14th Amendment rights, overruling the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Law enforcement instructed civil rights activists not to demonstrate directly in front of a courthouse. Law enforcement had complete discretion regarding how to apply Louisiana’s ordinance prohibiting assemblies from “obstructing public passages.”
Importance of Case
Law enforcement may not have complete discretion in how to apply conduct regulations related to expressive activity.