Beauharnais v. Illinois
343 U.S. 250 (1952)

  • Illinois had a law making it a crime to publish anything that implied the “depravity, criminality, unchastity, or lack of virtue of a class of citizens of any race, color, creed or religion” which exposes those people “to contempt, derision or obloquy or which is productive of breach of the peace or riots.”
    • That’s known as a group libel law, because it’s basically libel, but directed towards an entire class of people, as opposed to just one person.
  • Beauharnais was worried about minorities moving into his neighborhood, so he published a leaflet claiming that African-Americans were violent, rapists, robbers, and drug users.
  • Beauharnais was arrested and convicted of violating the Illinois law. He appealed.
    • Beauharnais argued that the 1st Amendment gave him the right to say what he wanted to say. Therefore the Illinois law was an unconstitutional infringement of freedom of speech.
  • The US Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court noted that certain forms of speech (including libel) were not constitutional protected.
      • See Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (315 U.S. 568 (1942)).
    • The Court found that group libel is still libel, and is therefore not constitutionally protected under the 1st Amendment.
  • Although this case has never been overruled, it is debatable as to whether or not it is still good law.
    • The decision rested on the assumption that libel is 100% unprotected speech. But later cases, including New York Times v. Sullivan (376 U.S.254 (1964)) have implied that libel and hate speech do have some degree of 1st Amendment protection.