Law School Case Brief
Terminiello v. Chicago - 337 U.S. 1, 69 S. Ct. 894 (1949)
Freedom of speech, though not absolute, 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.
Petitioner Arthur Terminiello gave a speech to a large audience inside an auditorium. Outside the auditorium a large group people protested Terminiello and his speech; the crowd was angry and turbulent. During the speech, Terminiello condemned the conduct of the protesting crowd. Subsequently, Terminiello was charged with violating respondent City of Chicago's ("City") ordinance for disorderly conduct. At trial in Illinois state court, the trial court charged the jury that Terminiello was guilty if his misbehavior stirred the public to anger, invited dispute, brought about a condition of unrest, or created a disturbance. Terminiello was convicted, and his conviction was affirmed by the appellate court as well as by the state supreme court. Terminiello was granted a writ of certiorari.
Did the City's ordinance unconstitutionally impede on Terminiello's right of free speech?
The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the state supreme court's judgment. The Court observed that a function of free speech was to invite dispute, and that freedom, though not absolute, was nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rose far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest. The City's ordinance as construed by the trial court seriously invaded this province. It permitted conviction of Terminiello if his speech stirred people to anger, invited public dispute, or brought about a condition of unrest. A conviction resting on any of those grounds could not stand.
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