416 U.S. 924 (1974), 73-537, Karlan v. City of Cincinnati

Docket Nº:No. 73-537.
Citation:416 U.S. 924, 94 S.Ct. 1922, 40 L.Ed.2d 280
Case Date:April 15, 1974
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 924

416 U.S. 924 (1974)

94 S.Ct. 1922, 40 L.Ed.2d 280

Stephen KARLAN



No. 73-537.

United States Supreme Court.

April 15, 1974


On petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Ohio.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the judgment is vacated and the case is remanded to the Supreme Court of Ohio for further consideration in light of Lewis v. City of New Orleans, 415 U.S. 130, 94 S.Ct. 970, 39 L.Ed.2d 214 (1974).

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, dissenting. [*]

[94 S.Ct. 1923] These cases all involve convictions under ordinances and statutes which punish the mere utterance of words variously described as 'abusive,' 'vulgar,' 'insulting,' 'profane,' 'indecent,' 'boisterous,' and the like. 1 The provisions are challenged as being unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The 'void for vagueness' doctrine is, of course, a due process concept implementing principles of fair warning and non-discriminatory enforcement. Vague laws may trap those who desire to be law-abiding by not providing fair notice of what is prohibited. Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156, 162, 92 S.Ct. 839, 31 L.Ed.2d 110 (1972); United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 617, 74 S.Ct. 808, 98 L.Ed. 989 (1954). They also provide opportunity for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement since those

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who apply the laws have no clear and explicit standards to guide them. Coates v. Cincinnati, 402 U.S. 611, 614, 91 S.Ct. 1686, 29 L.Ed.2d 214 (1971); Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham, 382 U.S. 87, 90-91, 86 S.Ct. 211, 15 L.Ed.2d 176 (1965). Further, when a vague statute "abut[s] upon sensitive areas of First Amendment freedoms,' it 'operates to inhibit the exercise of [those] freedoms.' Uncertain meanings inevitably lead citizens to 'steer far wider of the unlawful zone . . . than if the boundaries of the forbidden areas were clearly marked." Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 109, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 33 L.Ed.2d 222 (1972), quoting Baggett v. Bullitt, 377 U.S. 360, 372, 84 S.Ct. 1316, 12 L.Ed.2d 377 (1964), and Speiser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513, 526, 78 S.Ct. 1332, 2 L.Ed.2d 1460 (1958).

Overbreadth, on the other hand, 'offends the constitutional principle that 'a governmental purpose to control or prevent activities constitutionally subject to state regulation may not be achieved by means which sweep unnecessarily broadly and thereby invade the area of protected freedoms.” Zwickler v. Koota, 389 U.S. 241, 250, 88 S.Ct. 391, 19 L.Ed.2d 444 (1967), quoting NAACP v. Alabama, 377 U.S. 288, 307, 84 S.Ct. 1302, 12 L.Ed.2d 325 (1964). A vague statute may be overbroad if its uncertain boundaries leave open the possibility of punishment for protected conduct and thus lead citizens to avoid such protected activity in order to steer clear of the uncertain proscriptions. Grayned v. City of Rockford supra, 408 U.S. at 109, 92 S.Ct. 2294; Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479, 486, 85 S.Ct. 1116, 14 L.Ed.2d 22 (1965). A statute is also overbroad, however, if, even though it is clear and precise, it prohibits constitutionally protected conduct. Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U.S. 500, 508-509, 84 S.Ct. 1659, 12 L.Ed.2d 992 (1964); Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 488, 81 S.Ct. 247, 5 L.Ed.2d 231 (1960).

The statutes before us punish the mere utterance of words. They thus attempt to regulate the delicate area of speech and they are all overbroad since 'as authoritatively construed [they are] susceptible of application to speech, although vulgar or offensive, that is protected [94 S.Ct. 1924] by

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the First and Fourteenth Amendments.' Gooding v. Wilson, 405 U.S. 518, 520, 92 S.Ct. 1103, 31 L.Ed.2d 408 (1972). We have consistently held that '[i]t matters not that the words [the speaker] used might have been ocnstitutionally prohibited under a narrowly and precisely drawn statute.' Ibid. In the area of free speech, the value of protected expression is deemed to justify 'attacks on overly broad statutes with no requirement that the person making the attack demonstrate that his own conduct could not be regulated by a statute drawn with the requisite narrow specificity.' Dombrowski v. Pfister, supra, 380 U.S. at 486, 85 S.Ct. 1116. The specific conduct involved is thus not relevant. 'It is the ordinance on its face that sets the standard of conduct and warns against transgression. The details of the offense could no more serve to validate this ordinance than could the details of an offense charged under an ordinance suspending unconditionally the right of assembly and free speech.' Coates v. Cincinnati,supra, 402 U.S., at 616, 91 S.Ct. 1686.


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