Parker v. Levy
417 U.S. 733 (1974)

  • Levy was in the Army. He made a number of statements to other soldiers about the Vietnam War and suggested that soldiers refuse orders to go to Vietnam.
    • He also referred to Special Forces soldiers as “liars and thieves,” “killers of peasants,” and “murderers of women and children.”
  • Levy was court-martialed and sentenced to 3 years in military prison. He appealed.
    • Levy argued that he had a constitutional right to free speech under the 1st Amendment and that the Statutes he was convicted under (U.C.M.J. 90, 133, 134) were unconstitutional.
      • Those three sections prohibit “willful disobedience a lawful command,” “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman,” and “all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces” respectively.
    • Levy also argued that the UCMJ provisions were too vague, and that was a violation of the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment.
  • The Trial Court upheld the conviction. Levy appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed the conviction. The Army appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the UCMJ provisions were too vague to be constitutional.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and upheld the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the UCMJ provisions were not too vague as to be a violation of due process.
      • The Court noted that while the words in the provisions were vague, they had been narrowed by the courts and many specific examples were available.
        • Plus, Levy should have known that telling solders to disobey orders was a violation of military law.
    • The Court found that the UCMJ provisions were not a violation of the 1st Amendment.
      • The Court recognized that while soldiers “are not excluded from 1st Amendment protection, the fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it.”
        • So basically, the Court was saying that in certain situations where the government has a special need to maintain order (the army, schools, prisons), there are reduced 1st Amendment protections.