must prove that the statements were untrue to win a libel suit. Public persons find it even more difficult to prove libel or slander. New York Timesv. Sullivan(1964) was the first major libel caseconsidered by the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that when public figures are the object of a possibly libelous statement, they must prove “actual malice,” which requires proof of knowledgeof the falsity of the statement and intent to harm the public person. This is a much higher standard of proof and means that public figures are rarely able to win libel cases. The Court also protects parody. In the case of Hustler Magazinev. Falwell, the Court ruled that even savage parodies were constitutionally protected because this was part of the free flow of ideas.Fighting WordsThe Court has ruled on the issue of when speech disturbs the peace or causes a fight by its very utterance, is that speech is protected. Chaplinskyv. New Hampshire(1942) held that it is not. However, the Court has not visited that in many instances after Chaplinsky, and when it did, ruled on behalf of protecting the speech. Fighting words include profanity, threats, and obscenity.They do not have to be spoken. The seminal case here is the case in 1968 of a jacket bearing the words “Fuck the Draft. Stop the War.” The Supreme Court ruled that forbidding the use of certain words was tantamount to limiting political ideas and reversed the lower court decision in 1971 in Cohenv. California.Obscenity and PornographyIn general, obscenity and pornography are not protected speech. The problem comes with defining obscenity and pornography. The Court has issued a number of rulings on this, including:
Rothv. U.S.(1957)—ruling the material would be considered obscene only if it is utterly withoutredeeming social value and if applying contemporary community standards wholly appeals to theprurient interest; Miller v. California(1973)—material is obscene only if it presents patently offensive sexual conduct and lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value (the “LAPS” test). Miller also said community standards were local not national. Justice Potter Stewart once said he couldn't define obscenity, but "I know it when I see it." The ambiguity of definition still exists and is becoming even more problematic with the Internet.Congress and ObscenityIn recent years, Congress has taken on two high-profile issues related to obscenity: 1) federal funding for the arts, and 2) Internet pornography. The Court agreed with Congress that decency could be used in decisions on funding the arts but so far has ruled that limits on Internet porn, even when the protections are aimed solely at minors, violate free speech.Freedoms of Assembly and PetitionThe freedom to assemble has always been predicated on the idea of peaceable assembly. This is abalance between the right of the people to express dissent and the right of government to keep the peace, particularly in times of war. Traditionally, during war times all civil liberties have been
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- Fall '11
- Government, Supreme Court of the United States, Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, The Court