Edwards v. South Carolina, No. 86

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTEWART
Citation9 L.Ed.2d 697,372 U.S. 229,83 S.Ct. 680
Decision Date25 February 1963
Docket NumberNo. 86
PartiesJames EDWARDS, Jr., et al., Petitioners, v. SOUTH CAROLINA

372 U.S. 229
83 S.Ct. 680
9 L.Ed.2d 697
James EDWARDS, Jr., et al., Petitioners,

v.

SOUTH CAROLINA.

No. 86.
Argued Dec. 13, 1962.
Decided Feb. 25, 1963.

Jack Greenberg, for petitioner.

Daniel R. McLeod, Columbia, S.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioners, 187 in number, were convicted in a magistrate's court in Columbia, South Carolina, of the

Page 230

commonlaw crime of breach of the peace. Their convictions were ultimately affirmed by the South Carolina Supreme Court, 239 S.C. 339, 123 S.E.id 247. We granted certiorari, 369 U.S. 870, 82 S.Ct. 1141, 8 L.Ed.2d 274, to consider the claim that these convictions cannot be squared with the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

There was no substantial conflict in the trial evidence.1 Late in the morning of March 2, 1961, the petitioners, high school and college students of the Negro race, met at the Zion Baptist Church in Columbia. From there, at about noon, they walked in separate groups of about 15 to the South Carolina State House grounds, an area of two city blocks open to the general public. Their purpose was 'to submit a protest to the citizens of South Carolina, along with the Legislative Bodies of South Carolina, our feelings and our dissatisfaction with the present condition of discriminatory actions against Negroes, in general, and to let them know that we were dissatisfied and that we would like for the laws which prohibited Negro privileges in this State to be removed.'

Already on the State House grounds when the petitioners arrived were 30 or more law enforcement officers, who had advance knowledge that the petitioners were coming.2 Each group of petitioners entered the grounds through a driveway and parking area known in the record as the 'horseshoe.' As they entered, they were told by the law enforcement officials that 'they had a right, as a citizen, to go through the State House grounds, as any other citizen has, as long as they were peaceful.' Dur-

Page 231

ing the next half hour or 45 minutes, the petitioners, in the same small groups, walked single file or two abreast in an orderly way3 through the grounds, each group carrying placards bearing such messages as 'I am proud to be a Negro' and 'Down with segregation.'

During this time a crowd of some 200 to 300 onlookers had collected in the horseshoe area and on the adjacent sidewalks. There was no evidence to suggest that these onlookers were anything but curious, and no evidence at all of any threatening remarks, hostile gestures, or offensive language on the part of any member of the crowd. The City Manager testified that he recognized some of the onlookers, whom he did not identify, as 'possible trouble makers,' but his subsequent testimony made clear that nobody among the crowd actually caused or threatened any trouble.4 There was no obstruction of pedes-

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trian or vehicular traffic within the State House grounds.5 No vehicle was prevented from entering or leaving the horseshoe area. Although vehicular traffic at a nearby street intersection was slowed down somewhat, an officer was dispatched to keep traffic moving. There were a number of bystanders on the public sidewalks adjacent to the State House grounds, but they all moved on when asked to do so, and there was no impediment of pedestrian traffic.6 Police protection at the scene was at all

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times sufficient to meet any foreseeable possibility of disorder.7

In the situation and under the circumstances thus described, the police authorities advised the petitioners that they would be arrested if they did not disperse within 15 minutes.8 Instead of dispersing, the petitioners engaged in what the City Manager described as 'boisterous,' 'loud,' and 'flamboyant' conduct, which, as his later testimony made clear, consisted of listening to a 'religious harangue' by one of their leaders, and loudly singing 'The Star Spangled Banner' and other patriotic and religious songs, while stamping their feet and clapping their hands. After 15 minutes had passed, the police arrested the petitioners and marched them off to jail.9

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Upon this evidence the state trial court convicted the petitioners of breach of the peace, and imposed sentences ranging from a $10 fine or five days in jail, to a $100 fine or 30 days in jail. In affirming the judgments, the Supreme Court of South Carolina said that under the law of that State the offense of breach of the peace 'is not susceptible of exact definition,' but that the 'general definition of the offense' is as follows:

'In general terms, a breach of the peace is a violation of public order, a disturbance of the public tranquility, by any act or conduct inciting to violence * * *, it includes any violation of any law enacted to preserve peace and good order. It may consist of an act of violence or an act likely to produce violence. It is not necessary that the peace be actually broken to lay the foundation for a prosecution for this offense. If what is done is unjustifiable and unlawful, tending with sufficient directness to break the peace, no more is required. Nor is actual personal violence an essential element in the offense. * * *

'By 'peace,' as used in the law in this connection, is meant the tranquility enjoyed by citizens of a municipality or community where good order reigns among its members, which is the natural right of all persons in political society.' 239 S.C., at 343—344, 123 S.E.2d, at 249.

The petitioners contend that there was a complete absence of any evidence of the commission of this offense, and that they were thus denied one of the most basic ele-

Page 235

ments of due process of law. Thompson v. Louisville, 362 U.S. 199, 80 S.Ct. 624, 4 L.Ed.2d 654; see Garner v. Louisiana, 368 U.S. 157, 82 S.Ct. 248, 7 L.Ed.2d 207; Taylor v. Louisiana, 370 U.S. 154, 82 S.Ct. 1188, 8 L.Ed.2d 395. Whatever the merits of this contention, we need not pass upon it in the present case. The state courts have held that the petitioners' conduct constituted breach of the peace under state law, and we may accept their decision as binding upon us to that extent. But it nevertheless remains our duty in a case such as this to make an independent examination of the whole record. Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 205, n. 5, 80 S.Ct. 274, 279, 4 L.Ed.2d 242; Pennekamp v. Florida, 328 U.S. 331, 335, 66 S.Ct. 1029, 1031, 90 L.Ed. 1295; Fiske v. Kansas, 274 U.S. 380, 385—386, 47 S.Ct. 655, 656—657, 71 L.Ed. 1108. And it is clear to us that in arresting, convicting, and punishing the petitioners under the circumstances disclosed by this record, South Carolina infringed the petitioners' constitutionally protected rights of free speech, free assembly, and freedom to petition for redress of their grievances.

It has long been established that these First Amendment freedoms are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by the States. Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652, 45 S.Ct. 625, 69 L.Ed. 1138; Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 47 S.Ct. 641, 71 L.Ed. 1095; Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359, 51 S.Ct. 532, 75 L.Ed. 1117; De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353, 57 S.Ct. 255, 81 L.Ed. 278; Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 60 S.Ct. 900, 84 L.Ed. 1213. The circumstances in this case reflect an exercise of these basic constitutional rights in their most pristine and classic form. The petitioners felt aggrieved by laws of South Carolina which allegedly 'prohibited Negro privileges in this State.' They peaceably assembled at the site of the State Government10 and there peaceably expressed their grievances 'to the citizens of South Carolina, along with the Legislative Bodies of South Carolina.'

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Not until they were told by police officials that they must disperse on pain of arrest did they do more. Even then, they but sang patriotic and religious songs after one of their leaders had delivered a 'religious harangue.' There was no violence or threat of violence on their part, or on the part of any member of the crowd watching them. Police protection was 'ample.'

This, therefore, was a far cry from the situation in Feiner v. New York, 340 U.S. 315, 71 S.Ct. 303, 95 L.Ed. 295, where two policemen were faced with a crowd which was 'pushing, shoving and milling around,' id., at 317, 71 S.Ct. at 305, where at least one member of the crowd 'threatened violence if the police did not act,' id., at 317, 71 S.Ct. at 305, where 'the crowd was pressing closer around petitioner and the officer,' id., at 318, 71 S.Ct. at 305, and where 'the speaker passes the bounds of argument or persuasion and undertakes incitement to riot.' Id., at 321, 71 S.Ct. at 306. And the record is barren of any evidence of 'fighting words.' See Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 62 S.Ct. 766, 86 L.Ed. 1031.

We do not review in this case criminal convictions resulting from the evenhanded application of a precise and narrowly drawn regulatory statute evincing a legislative judgment that certain specific conduct be limited or proscribed. If, for example, the petitioners had been convicted upon evidence that they had violated a law regulating traffic, or had disobeyed a law reasonably limiting the periods during which the State House grounds were open to the public, this would be a different case.11

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See Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 307—308, 60 S.Ct. 900, 904—905, 84 L.Ed. 1213; Garner v. Louisiana, 368 U.S. 157, 202, 82 S.Ct. 248, 271, 7 L.Ed.2d 207 (concurring opinion). These petitioners were convicted of an offense so generalized as to be, in the words of the South Carolina Supreme Court, 'not susceptible of exact definition.' And they were convicted upon evidence which showed no more than that the opinions which they were peaceably expressing were sufficiently opposed to the views of the majority of the community to attract a crowd and necessitate police protection.

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649 practice notes
  • Buckley v. Valeo, No. 75-1061
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 29, 1975
    ...of every political communication protected by the first amendment and thus must be considered "pure speech", Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 83 S.Ct. 680, 9 L.Ed.2d 697 (1963), whose protection "is a major purpose of the amendment." Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214, 218, 86 S.Ct. 143......
  • Leonard v. Robinson, No. 05-1728.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • February 2, 2007
    ...S.Ct. 211, 15 L.Ed.2d 176 (1965) (reversing a loitering conviction in connection with a civil rights protest); Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 83 S.Ct. 680, 9 L.Ed.2d 697 (1963) (reversing breach of the peace convictions for protest against segregation on the capitol grounds). But ......
  • Street v. New York, No. 5
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 21, 1969
    ...See, e.g., Cox v. Louisiana (I), 379 U.S. 536, 546—552, 85 S.Ct. 453, 459—463, 13 L.Ed.2d 471 (1965); Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 237 238, 83 S.Ct. 680, 684, 9 L.Ed.2d 697 (1963); Terminiello v. City of Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4—5, 69 S.Ct. 894, 895—896, 93 L.Ed. 1131 (1949); cf. ......
  • United States v. Bronstein, Case No. 15-cr-00048 (CRC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • December 22, 2015
    ...Virginia , 224 Va. 127, 295 S.E.2d 643, 651 (1982). Yet widely varied usages of that word abound. See, e.g. , Edwards v. South Carolina , 372 U.S. 229, 233, 83 S.Ct. 680, 9 L.Ed.2d 697 (1963) (citing a city manager's statement that a “religious harangue” was one element in what he described......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
648 cases
  • Buckley v. Valeo, No. 75-1061
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 29, 1975
    ...of every political communication protected by the first amendment and thus must be considered "pure speech", Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 83 S.Ct. 680, 9 L.Ed.2d 697 (1963), whose protection "is a major purpose of the amendment." Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214, 218, 86 S.Ct. 143......
  • Leonard v. Robinson, No. 05-1728.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • February 2, 2007
    ...S.Ct. 211, 15 L.Ed.2d 176 (1965) (reversing a loitering conviction in connection with a civil rights protest); Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 83 S.Ct. 680, 9 L.Ed.2d 697 (1963) (reversing breach of the peace convictions for protest against segregation on the capitol grounds). But ......
  • Street v. New York, No. 5
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 21, 1969
    ...See, e.g., Cox v. Louisiana (I), 379 U.S. 536, 546—552, 85 S.Ct. 453, 459—463, 13 L.Ed.2d 471 (1965); Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 237 238, 83 S.Ct. 680, 684, 9 L.Ed.2d 697 (1963); Terminiello v. City of Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4—5, 69 S.Ct. 894, 895—896, 93 L.Ed. 1131 (1949); cf. ......
  • United States v. Bronstein, Case No. 15-cr-00048 (CRC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • December 22, 2015
    ...Virginia , 224 Va. 127, 295 S.E.2d 643, 651 (1982). Yet widely varied usages of that word abound. See, e.g. , Edwards v. South Carolina , 372 U.S. 229, 233, 83 S.Ct. 680, 9 L.Ed.2d 697 (1963) (citing a city manager's statement that a “religious harangue” was one element in what he described......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • SEARCHING FOR TRUTH IN THE FIRST AMENDMENT'S TRUE THREAT DOCTRINE.
    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 120 Nbr. 4, February 2022
    • February 1, 2022
    ...role is little more than a dry run."). (91.) N.Y. Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254,285 (1964) (quoting Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 232 (1963)); see also Bose Corp. v. Consumers Union of U.S., Inc., 466 U.S. (92.) Henry P. Monaghan, Constitutional Fact Review, 85 COLUM. L. RE......

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