Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether the police can charge a speaker with disorderly conduct for continuing to speak to a restless and hostile crowd.


The Supreme Court affirmed the speaker’s conviction for disorderly conduct.


A student’s inflammatory speech on a public sidewalk, which argued for violent revolution by black Americans and against President Truman, led to restlessness among the crowd and “at least one threat of violence.” Police officers asked the student to stop speaking three times, and after his third refusal, arrested him for disorderly conduct.

Importance of Case

This is a rare case of the Court upholding a criminal conviction in a hostile audience case. The Court stated: “It is one thing to say that the police cannot be used as an instrument for the suppression of unpopular views, and another to say that, when as here the speaker passes the bounds of argument or persuasion and undertakes incitement to riot, they are powerless to prevent a breach of the peace.” Justice Hugo Black’s dissent is renowned by First Amendment lawyers.

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