Gooding v. Wilson
405 U.S. 518 (1972)

  • Georgia had a law that made it illegal to, without provocation, to say to people, “opprobrious words or abusive language, tending to cause a breach of the peace.”
    • Known as fighting words.
  • Wilson was at a Vietnam War protests and threatened to kill some of the policemen trying to break up the protest. He was arrested and charged with breach of the peace.
  • Wilson was convicted of breaching the peace. He appealed.
    • Wilson argued that the Georgia law was unconstitutional since it infringed on his 1st Amendment right to free speech.
  • The US Supreme Court overturned the conviction and held the Georgia law to be unconstitutional.
    • The US Supreme Court acknowledged that certain forms of speech (including fighting words) were not constitutional protected.
      • See Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (315 U.S. 568 (1942)).
    • However, the Court found that the language of the Georgia law was overbroad because “opprobrious words or abusive language” can include things that are not fighting words.
    • The Court found that words cannot be banned based solely on their offensive or vulgar nature.
  • Compare to R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, Minnesota (505 U.S. 377 (1992)), where the US Supreme Court found that laws that are too narrowly defined can be unconstitutional infringements on free speech because they drawn content-based distinctions.
    • So a Statute can be held unconstitutional if it bans too much, or if it doesn’t ban enough.