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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Jim Garrison
(for the appellant)
(for the appellee)
Facts of the Case 

On November 2, 1962, Jim Garrison, the District Attorney for the Parish of New Orleans, held a press conference in which he issued a statement disparaging the judicial conduct of the eight judges of the Parish’s Criminal District Court. He attributed the backlog of pending cases to the judges’ inefficiency, laziness, and excessive vacations. Based on these statements, Garrison was tried and convicted of defamation under the Louisiana Criminal Defamation Statute, and the Supreme Court of Louisiana affirmed. Garrison appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and argued that the statute impermissibly infringed on his First Amendment rights to freedom of expression.


Does the Louisiana Criminal Defamation Statute unconstitutionally infringe on the First Amendment’s protection of the freedom of speech?

Decision: 9 votes for Garrison, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly

Yes. Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. delivered the opinion of the 9-0 majority. The Court held that a criminal libel statute should conform to the same restrictions as civil libel statutes to protect the freedom of expression under the First Amendment. Therefore, such statutes may only criminalize statements that are knowingly false or made with a reckless disregard for their truth or falsity. This limitation on libel statutes is in line with the precedent the Court established in New York Times v. Sullivan, and there is no reason that the freedom of speech protections should apply differently to a civil libel statute than to a criminal one. Based on this standard, the Louisiana Criminal Defamation Statute is unconstitutionally broad and infringes on the First Amendment’s protections of free speech.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Hugo L. Black wrote that the First Amendment protects citizens from being punished by the government for expressing an opinion, and therefore there should be no law permitting criminal punishment for libel. Justice William O. Douglas joined in the concurrence. Justice Douglas wrote a separate concurring opinion in which he argued that that the standard the majority opinion seeks to apply to criminal libel statutes does not adequately protect the freedom of speech. Justice Black joined in the concurring opinion. In his separate concurring opinion, Justice Arthur J. Goldberg wrote that the Constitution protects the absolute right of citizens and the press to criticize official conduct.

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GARRISON v. LOUISIANA. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 August 2015. <>.
GARRISON v. LOUISIANA, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 26, 2015).
"GARRISON v. LOUISIANA," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 26, 2015,