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Feiner v. New York

    Brief Fact Summary. A conviction for disorderly conduct was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) where a man was addressing a crowd of approximately eighty people and encouraging them to “rise up in arms.”

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When, as here, the speaker passes ordinary bounds of argument or persuasion and undertakes to incite a riot, the police may peacefully prevent a breach of peace.

    Facts. The Petitioner, Mr. Feiner (Petitioner), was convicted for disorderly conduct after addressing a crowd of approximately eighty people and encouraging them to attend a Young Progressives of America meeting. He also was trying to persuade members of the crowd “rise up in arms” and “fight for” blacks’ equal rights. Some shoving and pushing resulted from his statements. Policemen stepped in at the request of an onlooker and it resulted in a fight. After Petitioner ignored the police officers’ requests to stop speaking, he was arrested. The state courts held that the officers in making the arrest were motivated purely by concern for the preservation of order and protection of the general welfare and that there was no evidence supporting a claim that the police officers’ acts were a cover for suppression of Petitioner’s views and opinions.

    Issue. Whether Petitioner’s speech was protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution)?

    Held. No. Judgment of the lower courts affirmed. Petitioner was neither arrested nor convicted for the making or content of his speech. Rather, it was the reaction which it actually engendered. The Court respects the interest of the community in preserving the peace and order in its streets. The preservation of that interest here does not encroach on Petitioner’s constitutional rights. Here, the speaker passed ordinary bounds of argument or persuasion and undertook to incite a riot, therefore, the police were authorized to peacefully prevent a breach of peace.

    Dissent. Petitioner was lawfully making street-corner speech and should not have been convicted.

    Discussion. Here, there was a perceived threat of danger and violence resulting from Petitioner’s speech. Therefore, it was not protected.


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