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R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul

    Brief Fact Summary. St. Paul’s Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance (the Ordinance) was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) because it was substantially overbroad and impermissibly content-based.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Content-based restrictions, as well as point-of-view restrictions, are presumably invalid.

    Facts. The Petitioner, R.A.V. (Petitioner) and several other teenagers made a cross and burned it inside the fenced yard of a black family. The city of St. Paul charged Petitioner under the Ordinance which forbids harmful conduct on the basis of race. Petitioner moved to have this count dismissed on the ground that the Ordinance was substantially overbroad and impermissibly content-based. The trial court granted that motion, but the state of Minnesota Supreme Court reversed.

    Issue. Whether the Ordinance is substantially overbroad and impermissibly content-based?

    Held. Yes. Judgment of the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed. The statute is unconstitutional because it prohibits otherwise protected speech solely on the basis of the subjects the speech addresses. This ordinance, even narrowly construed to apply only to “fighting words,” still clearly applies to “fighting words” that insult or provoke violence “on the basis of race


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