Edwards v. South Carolina
|Edwards v. South Carolina|
Supreme Court of the United States
|Argued December 13, 1962
Decided February 25, 1963
|Full case name||Edwards, et al. v. South Carolina|
|Citations||372 U.S. 229 (more)|
|Prior history||Certiorari to the Supreme Court of South Carolina|
|Subsequent history||239 S. C. 339, 123 S. E. 2d 247, reversed.|
|State governments must protect First Amendment rights through the Fourteenth Amendment.|
|Majority||Stewart, joined by Warren, Black, Douglas, Harlan, Brennan, White, Goldberg|
|U.S. Const. amend. I|
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229 (1963), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution forbade state government officials to force a crowd to disperse when they are otherwise legally marching in front of a state house.
The 187 petitioners consisted of African-American high school and college students who peacefully assembled at the Zion Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina on March 2, 1961. The students marched in separate groups of roughly 15 to South Carolina State House grounds to peacefully express their grievances regarding civil rights of African-Americans. The crowd of petitioners did not engage in any violent conduct and did not threaten violence in any manner, nor did crowds gathering to witness the demonstration engage in any such behavior. Petitioners were told by police officials that they must disperse within 15 minutes or face arrest. The petitioners failed to disperse, opting to sing religious and patriotic songs instead. Petitioners were convicted of the common law crime of breach of the peace.
Opinion of the Court
The Supreme Court held that in arresting, convicting and punishing the petitioners, South Carolina infringed on the petitioners’ rights of free speech, free assembly and freedom to petition for a redress of grievances. The Court stated that these rights are guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by the States.
The Supreme Court argued the arrests and convictions of 187 marchers were an attempt by South Carolina to “make criminal the peaceful expression of unpopular views” where the marchers’ actions were an exercise of First Amendment rights “in their most pristine and classic form.” The Court described the common law crime of breach of the peace as “not susceptible of exact definition.”
In Edwards, Justice Clark dissented, arguing that the City Manager’s action may have averted a major catastrophe because of the “almost spontaneous combustion in some Southern communities in such a situation.”
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