FEINER V. NEW YORK, 340 U. S. 315 (1951)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Feiner v. New York, 340 U.S. 315 (1951)

Feiner v. New York

No. 93

Argued October 17, 1950

Decided January 15, 1951

340 U.S. 315


Petitioner made an inflammatory speech to a mixed crowd of 75 or 80 Negroes and white people on a city street. He made derogatory remarks about President Truman, the American Legion, and local political officials, endeavored to arouse the Negroes against the whites, and urged that Negroes rise up in arms and fight for equal rights. The crowd, which blocked the sidewalk and overflowed into the street, became restless; its feelings for and against the speaker were rising, and there was at least one threat of violence. After observing the situation for some time without interference, police officers, in order to prevent a fight, thrice requested petitioner to get off the box and stop speaking. After his third refusal, and after he had been speaking over 30 minutes, they arrested him, and he was convicted of violating § 722 of the Penal Code of New York, which, in effect, forbids incitement of a breach of the peace. The conviction was affirmed by two New York courts on review.

Held: The conviction is sustained against a claim that it violated petitioner's right of free speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 340 U. S. 316-321.

(a) Petitioner was neither arrested nor convicted for the making or the content of his speech, but for the reaction which it actually engendered. Pp. 340 U. S. 319-320.

(b) The police cannot be used as an instrument for the suppression of unpopular views; but, when a speaker passes the bounds of argument or persuasion and undertakes incitement to riot, the police are not powerless to prevent a breach of the peace. P. 340 U. S. 321.

300 N.Y. 391, 91 N.E.2d 316, affirmed.

The case is stated in the first paragraph of the opinion. The decision below is affirmed, p. 340 U. S. 321.

Page 340 U. S. 316

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