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Law School Case Brief

Boos v. Barry - 485 U.S. 312, 108 S. Ct. 1157 (1988)


The Supreme Court has described content-neutral speech restrictions as those that are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech.


District of Columbia Code § 22-1115 made it unlawful, within 500 feet of a foreign embassy, either to display any sign that tends to bring the foreign government into "public odium" or "public disrepute" (display clause), or to congregate and refuse to obey a police dispersal order (congregation clause). Michael Boos, Michael Waller and Bridget Brooker, hereinafter, “petitioners”, wished to carry signs critical of the Governments of the Soviet Union and Nicaragua on the public sidewalks within 500 feet of the embassies of those Governments in Washington, D. C. They further wished to congregate with two or more other persons within 500 feet of official foreign buildings. Asserting that D. C. Code § 22-1115 (1981) prohibited them from engaging in these expressive activities, petitioners brought a facial First Amendment challenge to that provision in the District Court for the District of Columbia. The lower courts held that the challenged provisions of the statute (i.e. display clause and congregation clause of the statute) were constitutional. Thereafter, the petitioners sought review of the judgment rendered by the lower courts.


Did both provisions of the statute, the display clause and congregation clause, violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?


As regards the display clause of the statute, yes; as regards the congregation clause of the statute, no.


The Supreme Court held that the display clause of the section was in violation of the first amendment protections of the Constitution. According to the Court, no international treaty could grant power to the Congress that was prohibited by the Constitution; thereby, it rejected arguments that the law was necessary to satisfy international obligations. On the other hand, the Court found that the congregation clause was not too broad or vague, and did not violate the First Amendment.

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