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Law School Case Brief

R. A. V. v. St. Paul - 505 U.S. 377, 112 S. Ct. 2538 (1992)

Rule:

The First Amendment generally prevents government from proscribing speech, or even expressive conduct, because of disapproval of the ideas expressed. Content-based regulations are presumptively invalid. 

Facts:

After allegedly burning a cross on a black family's lawn, petitioner R. A. V., a minor, was charged under the St. Paul, Minnesota, Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance, which prohibited the display of a symbol that one knew or had reason to know "arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender." The trial court dismissed the charge on the ground that the ordinance was substantially overbroad and impermissibly content based. The trial court also concluded that the ordinance was not impermissibly content based because it was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest in protecting the community against bias-motivated threats to public safety and order. The Supreme Court of Minnesota upheld the statute as constitutional. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari.

Issue:

Was the Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance unconstitutional?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance as facially unconstitutional. In reversing and remanding, the Court ruled that even if the expression reached by the ordinance was proscribable under the "fighting words" doctrine, the ordinance was facially unconstitutional because it prohibited otherwise permitted speech solely on the basis of the subjects the speech addressed. The Court held that the First Amendment did not permit the government to impose special prohibitions on speakers who expressed views on disfavored subjects. While the statute served a compelling interest, there were content-neutral alternatives available.

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