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Opinion of the Court.

conviction in this Court that his opportunity to make those defenses was denied below. And so, whether a prosecution for libel of a racial or religious group is unconstitutionally invalid where the State did deny the defendant such opportunities is not before us.19 Certainly the State may cast the burden of justifying what is patent defamation upon the defamer. The benefits of hypothetical defenses, never raised below or pressed upon us, are not to be invoked in the abstract.

As to the defense of truth, Illinois in common with many States requires a showing not only that the utterance state the facts, but also that the publication be made "with good motives and for justifiable ends." Ill. Const., Art. II, § 4.20 Both elements are necessary if the defense is to prevail. What has been called "the common sense of American criminal law," as formulated, with regard to necessary safeguards in criminal libel prosecutions, in the New York Constitution of 1821, Art. VII, § 8, has been adopted in terms by Illinois. The teaching of a century and a half of criminal libel prosecutions in this country

19 Indeed, such defenses are evidently protected by Illinois law. See Ill. Const., Art. II, § 17, guaranteeing the right of the people to apply for redress of grievances. And see People v. Fuller, 238 Ill. 116, 125, 87 N. E. 336, 338-339, on the defense of "fair comment" in criminal libel prosecutions.

20 The present constitution, adopted in 1870, is Illinois' third. The first two preserved the defense of truth in certain types of libel prosecutions: "In prosecutions for the publication of papers investigating the official conduct of officers, or of men acting in a public capacity, or where the matter published is proper for public information, the truth thereof may be given in evidence. And in all indictments for libels the jury shall have the right of determining both the law and the fact under the direction of the court as in other cases." Ill. Const., 1818, Art. VIII, § 23; Ill. Const., 1848, Art. XIII, § 24. The combined requirement of truth and good motives and justifiable ends, available as a defense in all libel suits, was adopted with the Constitution of 1870.

Opinion of the Court.

343 U.S.

would go by the board if we were to hold that Illinois was not within her rights in making this combined requirement. Assuming that defendant's offer of proof directed to a part of the defense was adequate," it did not satisfy the entire requirement which Illinois could exact.22 Libelous utterances not being within the area of constitutionally protected speech, it is unnecessary, either for us or for the State courts, to consider the issues behind the phrase "clear and present danger." Certainly no one would contend that obscene speech, for example, may be punished only upon a showing of such circumstances. Libel, as we have seen, is in the same class.

We find no warrant in the Constitution for denying to Illinois the power to pass the law here under attack.23 But

21 Defendant offered to show (1) that crimes were more frequent in districts heavily populated by Negroes than in those where whites predominated; (2) three specific crimes allegedly committed by Negroes; and (3) that property values declined when Negroes moved into a neighborhood. It is doubtful whether such a showing is as extensive as the defamatory allegations in the lithograph circulated by the defendant.

22 The defense attorney put a few questions to the defendant on the witness stand which tended toward elaborating his motives in circulating the lithograph complained of. When objections to these questions were sustained, no offer of proof was made, in contrast to the rather elaborate offer which followed the refusal to permit questioning tending to show the truth of the matter. Indeed, in that offer itself, despite its considerable detail, no mention was made of the necessary element of good motive or justifiable ends. In any event, the question of exclusion of this testimony going to motive was not raised by motion in the trial court, on appeal in Illinois, or before us.

23 The law struck down by the New Jersey court in New Jersey v. Klapprott, 127 N. J. L. 395, 22 A. 2d 877, was quite different than the one before us and was not limited, as is the Illinois statute, by construction or usage. Indeed, in that case the court emphasized that "It is not a case of libel," and contrasted the history at common law of criminal prosecutions for written and spoken defamation.


BLACK, J., dissenting.

it bears repeating-although it should not-that our finding that the law is not constitutionally objectionable carries no implication of approval of the wisdom of the legislation or of its efficacy. These questions may raise doubts in our minds as well as in others. It is not for us, however, to make the legislative judgment. We are not at liberty to erect those doubts into fundamental law.


MR. JUSTICE BLACK, with whom MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS concurs, dissenting.

This case is here because Illinois inflicted criminal punishment on Beauharnais for causing the distribution of leaflets in the city of Chicago. The conviction rests on the leaflet's contents, not on the time, manner or place of distribution. Beauharnais is head of an organization that opposes amalgamation and favors segregation of white and colored people. After discussion, an assembly of his group decided to petition the mayor and council of Chicago to pass laws for segregation. Volunteer members of the group agreed to stand on street corners, solicit signers to petitions addressed to the city authorities, and distribute leaflets giving information about the group, its beliefs and its plans. In carrying out this program a solicitor handed out a leaflet which was the basis of this prosecution. Since the Court opinion quotes only parts of the leaflet, I am including all of it as an appendix to this dissent, post, p. 276.


That Beauharnais and his group were making a genuine effort to petition their elected representatives is not disputed. Even as far back as 1689, the Bill of Rights exacted of William & Mary said: "It is the Right of the Subjects to petition the King, and all Commitments and

BLACK, J., dissenting.



343 U.S.

Prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal." And 178 years ago the Declaration of Rights of the Continental Congress proclaimed to the monarch of that day that his American subjects had "a right peaceably to assemble, consider of their grievances, and petition the King; and that all prosecutions, prohibitory proclamations, and commitments for the same, are illegal." After independence was won, Americans stated as the first unequivocal command of their Bill of Rights: "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Without distortion, this First Amendment could not possibly be read so as to hold that Congress has power to punish Beauharnais and others for petitioning Congress as they have here sought to petition the Chicago authorities. See e. g., Bridges v. California, 314 U. S. 252, 277. And we have held in a number of prior cases that the Fourteenth Amendment makes the specific prohibitions of the First Amendment equally applicable to the states.3

In view of these prior holdings, how does the Court justify its holding today that states can punish people for exercising the vital freedoms intended to be safeguarded from suppression by the First Amendment? The prior holdings are not referred to; the Court simply acts on the bland assumption that the First Amendment is wholly irrelevant. It is not even accorded the respect of a passing mention. This follows logically, I suppose,

11 William & Mary, Sess. 2, c. 2 (1689).

2 Eighth Resolution of the Continental Congress of 1774.

3 E. g., Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U. S. 233, 244, 245, 249; Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U. S. 444, 450; Schneider v. State, 308 U. S. 147, 160; Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U. S. 88, 95; Minersville District v. Gobitis, 310 U. S. 586, 593; Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624, 639; Thomas v. Collins, 323 U. S. 516, 529-530, concurring opinion, 545; Pennekamp v. Florida, 328 U. S. 331, 349.


BLACK, J., dissenting.

from recent constitutional doctrine which appears to measure state laws solely by this Court's notions of civilized "canons of decency," reasonableness, etc. See, e. g., Rochin v. California, 342 U. S. 165, 169. Under this "reasonableness" test, state laws abridging First Amendment freedoms are sustained if found to have a "rational basis." But in Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624, 639, we said:

"In weighing arguments of the parties it is important to distinguish between the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as an instrument for transmitting the principles of the First Amendment and those cases in which it is applied for its own sake. The test of legislation which collides with the Fourteenth Amendment, because it also collides with the principles of the First, is much more definite than the test when only the Fourteenth is involved. Much of the vagueness of the due process clause disappears when the specific prohibitions of the First become its standard. The right of a State to regulate, for example, a public utility may well include, so far as the due process test is concerned, power to impose all of the restrictions which a legislature may have a 'rational basis' for adopting. But freedoms of speech and of press, of assembly, and of worship may not be infringed on such slender grounds."

Today's case degrades First Amendment freedoms to the "rational basis" level. It is now a certainty that the new "due process" coverall offers far less protection to liberty than would adherence to our former cases compelling states to abide by the unequivocal First Amendment command that its defined freedoms shall not be abridged.

The Court's holding here and the constitutional doctrine behind it leave the rights of assembly, petition,

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