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PLS 460 Street V New York

PLS 460 Street V New York - Street V New York Street v New...

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Street V New York Street v. New York: Background Sydney Street, upon hearing of the shooting of civil rights leader James Meredith in Mississippi, took a 48-star American flag which he owned and burned it at a local intersection. A police officer who saw the burning flag arrested Street after he admitted to having set it on fire. Street was charged with violating a New York law which made it a crime to publicly mutilate or “publicly defy ... or cast contempt upon [any American flag] either by words or act.” Street, a veteran and winner of the Bronze Star, denied admitting to burning the flag but did admit to saying “If they let that happen to Meredith we don’t need an American flag.” Convicted and given a suspended sentence, Street appealed, arguing that the law was overbroad, that it was vague and imprecise, and that damaging the flag as a means of protest was a constitutionally protected form of expression. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and Street appealed to the Supreme Court. Street v. New York: Decision The Supreme Court overturned Sydney Street’s conviction. This was a complicated case to rule on because there was no record stating unambiguously what part of the law Street was convicted on — was he convicted for burning the flag or for the words he spoke, both of which the law prohibited? Writing for the Court, Justice Harlan explained that the state offered no good reasons for why Street’s words could be sufficient to convict him of a crime. In particular, Harlan found that the state could not suppress speech in order to protect “the sensibilities of passers-by who might be shocked by appellant’s words about the American flag” or to force Street “regardless of the impact of his words upon others, [to show] proper respect for our national emblem.” Therefore, the prohibition on “words” that “publicly defy” or “cast contempt” on the American flag was found unconstitutional: We have no doubt that the constitutionally guaranteed “freedom to be intellectually ... diverse
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