FEINER v. NEW YORK
On March 8, 1949, Irving Feiner, a white student at Syracuse University, made an inflammatory speech on a street corner in Syracuse, New York. During the speech, which was intended to encourage listeners to attend a leftist rally, Feiner made several disparaging remarks about local politicians, organizations, and President Truman. A crowd gathered, and several listeners began "muttering" and "shoving." One listener threatened Feiner. Two officers on the scene, fearing violence, asked Feiner twice to end his speech. After he refused, the officers arrested Feiner for inciting a breach of the peace. A trial court found Feiner guilty and sentenced him to thirty days in prison. On appeal, Feiner argued his arrest violated his right to free speech under the First Amendment. The Onondaga County Court and the New York Court of Appeals each denied his claim.
Did Feiner's arrest for inciting a breach of the peace violate his right to free speech under the First Amendment?
No. In a 6-3 opinion authored by Chief Justice Fred Vinson, the Court applied the "clear and present danger" principle it originally articulated in Schenck v. United States (1919). According to the Court, Feiner's arrest was a valid exercise of "the interest of the community in maintaining peace and order on its streets." The Chief Justice dismissed the notion that the arrest amounted to the suppression of free communication. "It is one thing to say that the police cannot be used as an instrument for the suppression of unpopular views, and another to say that, when as here the speaker passes the bounds of argument or persuasion and undertakes incitement to riot, they are powerless to prevent a breach of the peace."