- R. A. V. v. City of St. Paul
Litigants=R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul
FullName=R.A.V., Petitioner v. City of St. Paul, Minnesota
Citation=112 S. Ct. 2538; 120 L. Ed. 2d 305; 1992 U.S. LEXIS 3863; 60 U.S.L.W. 4667; 92 Cal. Daily Op. Service 5299; 92 Daily Journal DAR 8395; 6 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 479
Prior=Statute upheld as constitutional and sentence reinstated, 464 N.W.2d 507 (Minn. 1991)
Holding=The St. Paul Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance was struck down both because it was overbroad, proscribing both "fighting words" and protected speech, and because the regulation was "content-based," proscribing only activities which conveyed messages concerning particular topics. Judgment of the Supreme Court of Minnesota reversed.
JoinMajority=Rehnquist, Kennedy, Souter, and Thomas
JoinConcurrence=Blackmun, O'Connor, and Stevens (in part)
JoinConcurrence3=White (in part) and Blackmun (in part)
LawsApplied=U.S. Const., amend. I; St. Paul, Minn., Legis. Code § 292.02 (1990)
"R. A. V. v. City of St. Paul", ussc|505|377|1992 was a United States Supreme Court case involving the free speech clause of the
First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. A unanimous Court struck down St. Paul, Minnesota's Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance, and in doing so overturned the conviction of a teenager, referred to in court documents only as R.A.V., for burning a cross on the lawn of an African Americanfamily.
Facts and Procedural Background
In the early morning hours of
June 21, 1990, the petitioner, Robert Viktora, and several other teenagers allegedly assembled a crudely made cross by taping together broken chair legs.ussc|505|379|1992] The cross was erected and burned in the front yard of an African Americanfamily that lived across the street from the house where the petitioner was staying. Petitioner, who was a juvenile at the time, was charged with two counts, one of which a violation of the St. Paul Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance. The Ordinance provided:
Petitioner moved to dismiss the count under the Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance on the ground that it was substantially overbroad and impermissibly content based, and therefore facially invalid under the First Amendment. [505 U.S. at 380] The trial court granted the motion, but the
Minnesota Supreme Courtreversed, rejecting petitioners overbreadth claim because, as the Minnesota Court had construed the Ordinance in prior cases, the phrase "arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others" limited the reach of the ordinance to conduct that amounted to fighting wordsunder the " Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire" decision. [505 U.S. at 380-381] The Minnesota Court also concluded that the ordinance was not impermissibly content based because "the ordinance is a narrowly tailored means towards accomplishing the compelling governmental interest in protecting the community against bias-motivated threats to public safety and order." [In re Welfare of R.A.V., 464 N.W.2d 507, 510 (Minn. 1991)] Petitioner appealed, and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari. [ussc|501|1204|1991] Catharine MacKinnon, leading feminist legal theorist, wrote an amicus curiae brief for the National Black Women's Health Project supporting the statute on equality grounds as against a free speech analysis.
Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the court, in which Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justice Kennedy, Justice Souter, and Justice Thomas joined. Justice White wrote an opinion concurring in the judgment, which Justice Blackmun and Justice O'Connor joined in full, and Justice Stevens joined in part. Justice Blackmun wrote an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Stevens wrote an opinion concurring in the judgment, which was joined in part by Justice White and Justice Blackmun.
The majority decision
The Court began with a recitation of the relevant factual and procedural background, noting several times that the conduct at issue could have been prosecuted under different Minnesota statutes. [505 U.S. at 379-380, N.1] In construing the ordinance the Court recognized that it was bound by the construction given by the Minnesota Supreme Court.505 U.S. at 381] Therefore, the Court accepted the Minnesota court's conclusion that the ordinance reached only those expressions that constitute "fighting words" within the meaning of "Chaplinsky".
Petitioner argued that the "Chaplinsky" formulation should be narrowed, such that the ordinance would be invalidated as "substantially overbroad." The Court declined to consider the argument, concluding that even if all of the expression reached by the ordinance was proscribable as "fighting words," the ordinance was facially unconstitutional in that it prohibited otherwise permitted speech solely on the basis of the subjects the speech addressed.
The Court began its substantive analysis with a review of the principles of free speech clause jurisprudence, beginning with the general rule that the First Amendment prevents the government from proscribing speech, ["
Cantwell v. Connecticut", ussc|310|296|1940] or even expressive conduct, [" Texas v. Johnson", ussc|491|397|1989] because of disapproval of the ideas expressed. [505 U.S. at 382] The Court noted that while content-based regulations are presumptively invalid, society has permitted restrictions upon the content of speech in a few limited areas, which are "of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality." [505 U.S. at 382-383, citing " Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire"]
The Court then clarified language from previous free speech clause cases, including "
Roth v. United States", " Beauharnais v. Illinois", and "Chaplinsky", which suggested that certain categories of expression are "not within the area of constitutionally protected speech," cautioning that such statements "must be taken in context." [505 U.S. at 383] What that language meant, the Court wrote, was certain areas of speech "can, consistently with the First Amendment, be regulated "because of their constitutionally proscribable content" ( obscenity, defamation, etc.) — not that they are categories of speech entirely invisible to the Constitution, so that they may be made the vehicles for content discrimination." [505 U.S. at 383-384, emphasis in original] Thus, as one of the first of a number of illustrations that Justice Scalia would use throughout the opinion, the government may "proscribe libel, but it may not make the further content discrimination of proscribing "only" libel critical of the government." [505 U.S. at 384]
The Court recognized that while a particular instance of speech can be proscribed on the basis of one feature, the Constitution may prohibit proscribing it on the basis of another feature.505 U.S. at 385] Thus, while burning a flag in violation of an ordinance against outdoor fires could be punishable, burning a flag in violation of an ordinance against dishonoring the flag is not. In addition, other reasonable "time, place, or manner" restrictions had been upheld, but only if they were "justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech." ["
Ward v. Rock Against Racism", ussc|491|781|1989] [505 U.S. at 386]
The Court recognized 2 final principles of free speech jurisprudence, first, that when "the entire basis for the content discrimination consists entirely of the very reason the entire class of speech is proscribable, no significant danger of idea of
viewpoint discriminationexists." As examples, Justice Scalia wrote,
Second, the Court wrote that a valid basis for according different treatment to a content-defined subclass of proscribable speech is that the subclass "happens to be associated with particular 'secondary effects' of the speech, so that 'the regulation is "justified" without reference to the content of the … speech'" [505 U.S. at 389, quoting "
Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc.", ussc|475|41|1986 (emphasis in original)] As an example, the Court wrote that a State could permit all obscene live performances except those involving minors. [505 U.S. at 389]
Applying these principles to the St. Paul Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance, the Court concluded that the ordinance was facially unconstitutional. Justice Scalia explained the rationale, writing,
The Court went on to explain that, in addition to constituting an impermissible content based restriction, the Ordinance amounted to viewpoint based discrimination. Displays containing some words, such as racial slurs, would be prohibited to proponents of all views, whereas fighting words that "do not themselves invoke race, color, creed, religion, or gender — aspersions upon a person's mother, for example — would seemingly be usable ad libitum in the placards of those arguing in favor of racial, color, etc., tolerance and equality, but could not be used by those speakers' opponents." The Court concluded that "St. Paul has no such authority to license one side of a debate to fight freestyle, while requiring the other to follow
Marquess of Queensberry rules."
The Court concluded by writing "Let there be no mistake about our belief that burning a cross in someone's front yard is reprehensible. But St. Paul has sufficient means at its disposal to prevent such behavior without adding the First Amendment to the fire." [505 U.S. at 396]
List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 505
* cite journal | last = Amar | first = Akhil Reed | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 1992 | month = | title = The Case of the Missing Amendments: "R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul" | journal =
Harvard Law Review| volume = 106 | issue = | pages = 124 | id = | url = | accessdate = | quote =
*cite book |title=Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative |last=Butler |first=Judith |authorlink=Judith Butler |coauthors= |year=1997 |publisher=Routledge |location=New York |isbn=0415915880 |pages=
* cite journal | last = Kagan | first = Elena | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 1992 | month = | title = The Changing Faces of First Amendment Neutrality: "R.A.V. v St. Paul", "Rust v Sullivan", and the Problem of Content-Based Underinclusion | journal = The Supreme Court Review | volume = 1992 | issue = | pages = 29–77 | doi = 10.2307/3109667 | url = | accessdate = | quote =| doi_brokendate = 2008-06-26
* cite journal | last = Levin | first = Brian | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2002 | month = | title = From Slavery to Hate Crime Laws: The Emergence of Race and Status-Based Protection in American Criminal Law | journal = Journal of Social Issues | volume = 58 | issue = 2 | pages = 227–245 | doi = 10.1111/1540-4560.00258 | url = | accessdate = | quote =
*cite book |title=Words That Wound: Critical Race Theory, Assaultive Speech, and the First Amendment |last=Matsuda |first=Mari J. |authorlink= |coauthors=Lawrence, Charles R.; Delgado, Richard; Crenshaw, Kimberle W. |year=1993 |publisher=Westview Press |location=Boulder, CO |isbn=0813384281 |pages=
case="R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul", 505 U.S. 377 (1992)
* [http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/faclibrary/case.aspx?case=RAV_v_St_Paul First Amendment Library entry on "R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul"]
* [http://www.oyez.org/cases/case/?case=1990-1999/1991/1991_90_7675 Oral Argument Audio on Oyez]
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