Cohen v. California
403 U.S. 15 (1971)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971)

Cohen v. California

No. 299

Argued February 22, 1971

Decided June 7, 1971

403 U.S. 15

Syllabus

Appellant was convicted of violating that part of Cal.Penal Code § 415 which prohibits "maliciously and willfully disturb[ing] the peace or quiet of any neighborhood or person . . . by . . . offensive conduct," for wearing a jacket bearing the words "Fuck the Draft" in a corridor of the Los Angeles Courthouse. The Court of Appeal held that "offensive conduct" means "behavior which has a tendency to provoke others to acts of violence or to in turn disturb the peace," and affirmed the conviction.

Held: Absent a more particularized and compelling reason for its actions, the State may not, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, make the simple public display of this single four-letter expletive a criminal offense. Pp. 403 U. S. 22-26.

1 Cal.App.3d 94, 81 Cal.Rptr. 503, reversed.

HARLAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, STEWART, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACK, J., joined, and in which WHITE, J., joined in part, post, p. 403 U. S. 27.

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