Beauharnais v. Illinois
343 U.S. 250 (1952)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Beauharnais v. Illinois, 343 U.S. 250 (1952)

Beauharnais v. Illinois

No. 118

Argued November 28, 1951

Decided April 28, 1952

343 U.S. 250

Syllabus

Over his claim that the statute violated the liberty of speech and of the press guaranteed as against the States by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and was void for vagueness, petitioner was convicted in a state court for distributing on the streets of Chicago anti-Negro leaflets in violation of Ill.Rev.Stat., 1949, c. 38, § 471, which makes it a crime to exhibit in any public place any publication which "portrays depravity, criminality, unchastity, or lack of virtue of a class of citizens, of any race, color, creed or religion" which "exposes the citizens of any race, color, creed or religion to contempt, derision, or obloquy."

Held:

1. As construed and applied in this case, the statute does not violate the liberty of speech and of the press guaranteed as against the States by ihe Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 343 U. S. 251-264.

2. As construed and applied in this case, the statute is not void for vagueness. Winters v. New York,333 U. S. 507; Stromberg v. California,283 U. S. 359; Thornhill v. Alabama,310 U. S. 88; and Terminiello v. Chicago,337 U. S. 1, distinguished. P. 343 U. S. 264.

3. Since petitioner did not, by appropriate steps in the trial court, seek to justify his utterance as "fair comment" or as privileged as a means for redressing grievances, those hypothetical defenses cannot be considered by this Court. Pp. 343 U. S. 264-265.

4. Since the Illinois Supreme Court construed this statute as a form of criminal libel law, and truth of the utterance is not a defense to a charge of criminal libel under Illinois law unless the publication is also made "with good motives and for justifiable ends," petitioner was not denied due process by the trial court's rejection of a proffer of proof which did not satisfy this requirement. Pp. 343 U. S. 253-254, 343 U. S. 265-266.

5. Since libelous utterances are not within the area of constitutionally protected speech, it is not necessary for this Court to consider the issues raised by the denial of petitioner's request that the jury be instructed that, in order to convict, they must find that the publication complained of was likely to produce a "clear and present danger" of a substantial evil. Pp. 343 U. S. 253, 343 U. S. 266.

408 Ill. 512, 97 N.E.2d 343, affirmed.

Page 343 U. S. 251

The Supreme Court of Illinois sustained petitioner's conviction of a violation of Ill.Rev.Stat., 1949, c. 38 § 471, over his objection that the statute was invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment. 408 Ill. 512, 97 N.E.2d 343. This Court granted certiorari. 342 U.S. 809. Affirmed, p. 343 U. S. 267.

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