COX v. LOUISIANA
On the morning of December 15, 1961, Elton Cox led a some 2000 students on an anti-discrimination march that ended in a large assembly before the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, courthouse building. Following police instructions, the demonstrators confined themselves to the west side of the street so as not to interfere with traffic. As the lunch hour neared, Cox encouraged the demonstrators to seek service at any one of several near-by segregated lunch counters. Upon hearing this, the police urged the crowd to disband and began pushing them away from the courthouse. When the demonstrators resisted, police showered them with tear gas and chased them away. The following day, Louisiana police arrested and charged Cox with "disturbing the peace." On appeal from the Louisiana Supreme Court's decision upholding an adverse district court ruling, the Supreme Court granted Cox certiorari.
Does a statutory "disturbance of the peace" conviction, for a peaceable demonstration that contains speech that may potentially incite violence, infringe on a demonstrator's First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly?
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly
Yes. In a 7-to-2 decision, the Court began by noting that none of the demonstrators' activities acceded those that would be expected at any peaceable assembly. Cheering, clapping, and singing do not in themselves constitute a breach of the peace. With respect to Cox's urging the demonstrators to engage in activities which could potentially result in violence, such as demanding service at segregated lunch counters, the Court held that these could not sustain a breach of the peace conviction either. The constitutional rights of freedom of speech and assembly could not be denied because of hostility to their assertion or exercise. The Court noted that free speech protections serve perhaps their best purpose when they invite dispute, induce conditions of unrest, and even stir people to anger over prejudicial preconceptions. Any statute that is so broadly written as to stifle these freedoms shall be stuck down as repugnant to the Constitution.