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Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment

He who writes (the rules) wins the game…

(from the ever-illuminating Language Log)

As we sharpen our pencils, we might recall that it was on this date in 1971 that the U. S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Paul Cohen for disturbing the peace, setting the precedent that “vulgar” writing is protected under the First Amendment.

In April of 1968, Cohen had been arrested in the L.A. County Courthouse for wearing a jacket the back of which read “F–k the Draft”; he was charged with and later convicted of violating section 415 of the California Penal Code, which prohibited “maliciously and willfully disturb[ing] the peace or quiet of any neighborhood or person [by] offensive conduct.”

In a 5-4 decision, SCOTUS upheld Cohen’s appeal.  In the majority opinion, Justice John Marshall Harlan averred that “one man’s vulgarity  is another’s lyric.”  (For the minority, Justice Harry Blackmun demurred, arguing that Cohen’s “absurd and immature antic” was conduct, not speech– and thus should not be afforded First Amendment protection.)

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