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The question of our jurisdiction need not detain us long. The conviction quite clearly rests upon the asserted offensiveness of the words Cohen used to convey his message to the public. 359 (1931), not upon any separately identifiable conduct which allegedly was intended by Cohen to be perceived by others as expressive of particular views but which, on its face, does not necessarily convey any message, and hence arguably could be regulated without effectively repressing Cohen's ability to express himself. In the second place, as it comes to us, this case cannot be said to fall within those relatively few categories of [p20] instances where prior decisions have established the power of government to deal more comprehensively with certain forms of individual expression simply upon a showing that such a form was employed. Whatever else may be necessary to give rise to the States' broader power to prohibit obscene expression, such expression must be, in some significant way, erotic. And, while it may be that one has a more substantial claim to a recognizable privacy interest when walking through a courthouse corridor than, for example, strolling through Central Park, surely it is nothing like the interest in [p22] being free from unwanted expression in the confines of one's own home. There may be some persons about with such lawless and violent proclivities, but that is an insufficient base upon which to erect, consistently with constitutional values, a governmental power to force persons who wish to ventilate their dissident views into avoiding particular forms of expression. We [p24] think, however, that examination and reflection will reveal the shortcomings of a contrary viewpoint.
We brought the case here, postponing the consideration of the question of our jurisdiction over this appeal to a hearing of the case on the merits. Accordingly, we are fully satisfied that Cohen has properly invoked our jurisdiction by this appeal. The rationale of the California court is plainly untenable. The argument amounts to little more than the self-defeating proposition that, to avoid physical censorship of one who has not sought to provoke such a response by a hypothetical coterie of the violent and lawless, the States may more appropriately effectuate that censorship themselves. The constitutional right of free expression is powerful medicine in a society as diverse and populous a ours. These are, however, within established limits, in truth necessary side effects of the broader enduring values which the process of open debate permits us to achieve. come under the protection of free speech as fully as do Keats' poems or Donne's sermons," 402 U. First, the principle contended for by the State seems inherently boundless.
J., and BLACK, J., joined, and in which WHITE, J., joined in part, TOP Opinion HARLAN, J., Opinion of the Court MR. This case may seem at first blush too inconsequential to find its way into our books, but the issue it presents is of no small constitutional significance. It is, in sum, our judgment that, absent a more particularized and compelling reason for its actions, the State may not, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, make the simple public display here involved of this single four-letter expletive a criminal offense.
The Court of Appeal held that "offensive conduct" means "behavior which has a tendency to provoke Absent a more particularized and compelling reason for its actions, the State may not, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, make the simple public display of this single four-letter expletive a criminal offense. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C. We cannot sanction the view that the Constitution, while solicitous of the cognitive content of individual speech, has little or no regard for that emotive function which, practically speaking, may often be the more important element of the overall message sought to be communicated. Justice Frankfurter has said, [o]ne of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures -- and that means not only informed and responsible criticism, but the freedom to speak foolishly and without moderation. We have been able, as noted above, to discern little social benefit that might result from running the risk of opening the door to such grave results.
Syllabus Appellant was convicted of violating that part of Cal. [p16] Appellant Paul Robert Cohen was convicted in the Los Angeles Municipal Court of violating that part of California Penal Code § 415 which prohibits "maliciously and willfully disturb[ing] the peace or quiet of any neighborhood or person . Because that is the only arguably sustainable rationale for the conviction here at issue, the judgment below must be [p27] The statute provides in full: Every person who maliciously and willfully disturbs the peace or quiet of any neighborhood or person, by loud or unusual noise, or by tumultuous or offensive conduct, or threatening, traducing, quarreling, challenging to fight, or fighting, or who, on the public streets of any unincorporated town, or upon the public highways in such unincorporated town, run any horse race, either for a wager or for amusement, or fire any gun or pistol in such unincorporated town, or use any vulgar, profane, or indecent language within the presence or hearing of women or children, in a loud and boisterous manner, is guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction by any Court of competent jurisdiction shall be punished by fine not exceeding two hundred dollars, or by imprisonment in the County Jail for not more than ninety days, or by both fine and imprisonment, or either, at the discretion of the Court. be guilty of disturbing the peace through "offensive" conduct [within the meaning of § 415] if, by his actions, he willfully and maliciously incites others to violence or engages in conduct likely to incite others to violence.
Penal Code § 415 which prohibits "maliciously and willfully disturb[ing] the peace or quiet of any neighborhood or person . The suggestion has been made that, in light of the supervening opinion of the California Supreme Court in opinion, Chief Justice Traynor stated: [One] may . ( It is illuminating to note what transpired when Cohen entered a courtroom in the building.