Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229 (1963)

2012-06-15 11:33:46

This case was decided by the Supreme Court in 1963. It was one of numerous cases involving civil rights demonstrations to come before the Court. Edwards decided several important issues that facilitated the ability of groups to make these protests. It involved a demonstration by 187 black high school and college students. They marched to the South Carolina State House grounds in groups of about fifteen, then walked single file or two abreast in an orderly way on the sidewalks around the grounds, carrying signs protesting segregation. As the demonstration continued, about 355 onlookers, mostly hostile to the demonstrators, congregated on the grounds. These spectators impeded the traffic flow around the State House. The response of law enforcement officials was to order the student demonstrators to disperse. When they failed to do so, they were arrested, charged, and convicted for a breach of the peace.

The Court held that state government ground such as the State House grounds were quintessential public fora where First Amendment activities were entitled to the greatest protection. The Court also held that these rights were to be protected against a hostile audience. This ensured the ‘‘heckler’s veto’’ could not justify stifling the demonstrators. That holding established a wide range of protection for nonviolent protests. The Court said ‘‘the Fourteenth Amendment does not permit a State to make criminal the peaceful expression of unpopular views.’’ The Court found that state and local governments could not use their breach of the peace statutes to arrest or imprison peaceful demonstrators.


References and Further Reading

  • Weaver, Russell L., and Arthur D. Hellman The First Amendment: Cases, Materials and Problems. Charlottesville, Va.: LexisNexis, 2002.
  • Friedman, Leon, and Richard Mark Gergel. ‘‘Matthew J. Perry’s Contribution to the Development of Constitutional Law.’’ In Matthew J. Perry: The Man, His Times, and His Legacy, edited by W. Lewis Burke and Belinda Gergel, 105–10. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.