COHEN v. CALIFORNIA

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
299
Appellee 
California
Appellant 
Cohen
Opinion 
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the appellant)
(Argued the cause for the appellee)
Tags
Term:
Facts of the Case 

A 19-year-old department store worker expressed his opposition to the Vietnam War by wearing a jacket emblazoned with "FUCK THE DRAFT. STOP THE WAR" The young man, Paul Cohen, was charged under a California statute that prohibits "maliciously and willfully disturb[ing] the peace and quiet of any neighborhood or person [by] offensive conduct." Cohen was found guilty and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Question 

Did California's statute, prohibiting the display of offensive messages such as "Fuck the Draft," violate freedom of expression as protected by the First Amendment?

Conclusion 
Decision: 5 votes for Cohen, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 1: Speech, Press, and Assembly

Yes. In an opinion by Justice John Marshall Harlan, the Court reasoned that the expletive, while provocative, was not directed toward anyone; besides, there was no evidence that people in substantial numbers would be provoked into some kind of physical action by the words on his jacket. Harlan recognized that "one man's vulgarity is another's lyric." In doing so, the Court protected two elements of speech: the emotive (the expression of emotion) and the cognitive (the expression of ideas).

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COHEN v. CALIFORNIA. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 24 October 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1970/1970_299>.
COHEN v. CALIFORNIA, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1970/1970_299 (last visited October 24, 2014).
"COHEN v. CALIFORNIA," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed October 24, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1970/1970_299.