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Law School Case Brief

Edwards v. South Carolina - 372 U.S. 229, 83 S. Ct. 680 (1963)


The Fourteenth Amendment does not permit a state to make criminal the peaceful expression of unpopular views. A function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech is protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest. There is no room under our constitution for a more restrictive view. For the alternative would lead to standardization of ideas either by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups. 


Black high school and college students walked in separate groups of about 15 to the South Carolina state house grounds, an area of two city blocks open to the general public. Their purpose was to submit a protest of grievances to the citizens of South Carolina, and to the legislative bodies of South Carolina. During the course of the peaceful demonstration the police arrested the students after they did not obey an order to disperse. The students were convicted of breach of the peace. After their convictions were affirmed by the state supreme court, the students filed a petition for certiorari review. They contended that there was a complete absence of any evidence of the commission of the offense and that they were thus denied one of the most basic elements of due process of law. 


Did South Carolina infringe the students’ rights of free speech, free assembly and freedom to petition for a redress of grievances rights guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by the States?




The court found that the students were convicted of an offense so generalized as to be, not susceptible of exact definition. They were convicted upon evidence which showed no more than that the opinions which they were peaceably expressing were sufficiently opposed to the views of the majority of the community to attract a crowd and necessitate police protection.

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