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

  • Feiner was making derogatory comments via loudspeaker about President Truman, the American Legion, and mayor of Syracuse, and others. An unruly crowd gathered, and the police told Feiner to stop inciting the crowd. When Feiner refused to comply, he was arrested for inciting a breach of the peace.
  • Feiner was convicted of disorderly conduct. He appealed.
    • Feiner argued that his conviction was unconstitutional because the 1st Amendment guaranteed free speech.
  • The US Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the police silenced Feiner not because of his words, but because of the reaction of the crowd.
    • The Court found that Feiner had a constitutional right to express his opinion, but the 1st Amendment does not give one the right to start a riot. When the speech crosses the line into creating a civil disturbance, the speaker may be silenced.
      • Those are known as fighting words.
  • Basically, this case said that it is a violation of the 1st Amendment to silence unpopular views, but it is constitutionally permissible to silence a speaker who is trying to incite a riot.