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R. A. V. v. City of St. Paul

R. A. V., Petitioner, v. City of St. Paul, Minnesota 505 US 377 1992 is an important recent U.S. Supreme Court case involving the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and freedom of speech.

Table of contents

Background

The United States Supreme Court has, over its history, but particularly during the twentieth century, dealt with many cases involving the First Amendment and freedom of speech, particularly symbolic speech[?]. In cases such as Schenck v. United States 249 US 47 1919, Gitlow v. New York[?] 268 US 652 1925, Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire[?] 315 U.S. 568 1942, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan[?] Miller v. California 413 US 15 1973, and others, the Supreme Court has had to adjudicate issues relating to freedom of speech; in more recent years, the Court has tended to rule in favor of the speech that came into question.

The Case

The case was argued in the U.S. Supreme Court on 4 December 1991.

From the decision of the court, 505 US 377:

In the predawn hours of June 21, 1990, petitioner and several other teenagers allegedly assembled a crudely made cross by taping together broken chair legs. They then allegedly burned the cross inside the fenced yard of a black family that lived across the street from the house where petitioner was staying.

[The] petitioner R.A.V. was charged under, inter alia, the St. Paul, Minnesota, Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance, which prohibits the display of a symbol which one knows or has reason to know "arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender."

The Decision

Trial Court

The trial court rejected the charge against the petitioner on the grounds that the statute in question was overly broad and "impermissably content-based."

Supreme Court

On 22 June 1992, the Supreme Court overturned the trial court's decision, but still declared the City's ordinance unconstitutional. As Justice Antonin Scalia asserted in the opinion of the Court,

Assuming, arguendo, that all of the expression reached by the ordinance is proscribable under the "fighting words" doctrine, we nonetheless conclude that the ordinance is facially unconstitutional in that it prohibits otherwise permitted speech solely on the basis of the subjects the speech addresses. [505 US 377]

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