416 U.S. 924 (1974)

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U.S. Supreme Court

KARLAN v. CITY OF CINCINNATI , 416 U.S. 924 (1974)

416 U.S. 924

Stephen KARLAN
No. 73-537.

Supreme Court of the United States

April 15, 1974

On petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Ohio.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the judgment is vacated and the case is remanded to the Supreme Court of Ohio for further consideration in light of Lewis v. City of New Orleans, 415 U.S. 130, 94 S. Ct. 970 (1974).

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, dissenting.*

These cases all involve convictions under ordinances and statutes which punish the mere utterance of words variously described as 'abusive,' 'vulgar,' 'insulting,' 'profane,' 'indecent,' 'boisterous,' and the like. [Footnote 1] The provisions are challenged as being unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The 'void for vagueness' doctrine is, of course, a due process concept implementing principles of fair warning and non-discriminatory enforcement. Vague laws may trap those who desire to be law-abiding by not providing fair notice of what is prohibited. Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156, 162 (1972); United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 617 ( 1954). They also provide opportunity for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement since those

Page 416 U.S. 924 , 925

who apply the laws have no clear and explicit standards to guide them. Coates v. Cincinnati, 402 U.S. 611, 614 ( 1971); Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham, 382 U.S. 87, 90-91, 15 L. Ed.2d 176 (1965). Further, when a vague statute "abut[s] upon sensitive areas of First Amendment freedoms,' it 'operates to inhibit the exercise of [those] freedoms.' Uncertain meanings inevitably lead citizens to 'steer far wider of the unlawful zone . . . than if the boundaries of the forbidden areas were clearly marked." Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 109 (1972), quoting Baggett v. Bullitt, 377 U.S. 360, 372 (1964), and Speiser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513, 526 (1958).

Overbreadth, on the other hand, 'offends the constitutional principle that 'a governmental purpose to control or prevent activities constitutionally subject to state regulation may not be achieved by means which sweep unnecessarily broadly and thereby invade the area of protected freedoms." Zwickler v. Koota, 389 U.S. 241, 250 (1967), quoting NAACP v. Alabama, 377 U.S. 288, 307 (1964). A vague statute may be overbroad if its uncertain boundaries leave open the possibility of punishment for protected conduct and thus lead citizens to avoid such protected activity in order to steer clear of the uncertain proscriptions. Grayned v. City of Rockford supra, 408 U.S. at 109; Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479, 486 (1965). A statute is also overbroad, however, if, even though it is clear and precise, it prohibits constitutionally protected conduct. Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U.S. 500, 508-509 (1964); Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 488 (1960).

The statutes before us punish the mere utterance of words. They thus attempt to regulate the delicate area of speech and they are all overbroad since 'as authoritatively construed [they are] susceptible of application to speech, although vulgar or offensive, that is protected by [416 U.S. 924 , 926]

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