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Case Basics
Docket No. 
South Carolina
Facts of the Case 

The 187 petitioners in this case, all of whom were black, organized a march to the South Carolina State House grounds in which small groups of fifteen would walk in an open public area protesting the policies of segregation in their state. The march was peaceful, did not block pedestrian or vehicular traffic, and was conducted in an orderly fashion on public property. A group of approximately thirty police officers confronted the group and ordered its members to disperse or to submit to arrest. The marchers did not disperse, and instead began singing religious and patriotic songs like the Star Spangled Banner. They were arrested and later convicted on a charge of breach of the peace.


Did the arrests and convictions of the marchers violate their freedom of speech, assembly, and petition for redress of their grievances as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments?

Decision: 8 votes for Edwards, 1 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly

Yes. The Court held that the arrests and convictions violated the rights of the marchers. They were convicted of an offense which the South Carolina Supreme Court, in upholding the convictions, described as "not susceptible of exact definition." The evidence used to prosecute the marchers did not even remotely prove that their actions were violent. Hence, Justice Stewart found clear constitutional violations in this case. Stewart called the marchers' actions an exercise of First Amendment rights "in their most pristine and classic form" and emphasized that a state cannot "make criminal the peaceful expression of unpopular views" as South Carolina attempted to do here.

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EDWARDS v. SOUTH CAROLINA. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1962/1962_86>.
EDWARDS v. SOUTH CAROLINA, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1962/1962_86 (last visited August 25, 2015).
"EDWARDS v. SOUTH CAROLINA," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 25, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1962/1962_86.