Terminiello v. City of Chicago
Decided on May 16, 1949; 337 US 1


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Free speech

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did the Judge err in his instruction to the jury when he defined "breach of peace" as including "speech which stirs the public to anger, invites dispute, brings about a condition of unrest, or creates a disturbance?"

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

The petitioner addressed a large audience of members of the Christian Veterans of America, in Chicago. "Outside of the auditorium a crowd of about one thousand persons gathered to protest against the meeting. A cordon of policemen was assigned to the meeting to maintain order; but they were not able to prevent several disturbances. The crowd outside was angry and turbulent... Petitioner in his speech condemned the conduct of the crowd outside and vigorously, if not viciously, criticized various political and racial groups whose activities he denounced as inimical to the nation's welfare."

Petitioner was convicted at trial of disorderly conduct in violation of city of Chicago ordinance and the Illinois Appellate Court and the Supreme Court of Illinois. On certiorari the US Supreme Court reversed.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Mr. Albert W. Dilling, of Chicago, Ill., for petitioner. Mr. L. Louis Karton, of Chicago, Ill., for respondent.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"The vitality of civil and political institutions in our society depends on free discussion... Accordingly a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea...

The ordinance as construed by the trial court seriously invaded this province. It permitted conviction of petitioner 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 may not stand."

The US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Illinois.

Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 4 Con

  • Douglas, W. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Murphy, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rutledge, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Reed, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Jacskon, R. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Vinson, F. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Frankfurter, F. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Burton, H. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Illinois; the Supreme Court reversed in a 5-4 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.