Study Guide

Free Speech - Bridges and Terminiello

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Bridges and Terminiello

  • 1941 Supreme Court regarding labor leader Harry Bridges ended with majority ruling that speech should only be restricted as "clear and present danger" in rare cases of extremely serious risk
  • 1949 Terminiello decision ruled that offensive or inflammatory speech was protected under the First Amendment in most cases

Over time, the majority within the Court did move toward a more complete acceptance of Holmes's clear and present danger test. In 1941, in Bridges v. California, the Supreme Court offered a summary of the state of the question. In this case, the contempt citations filed against a newspaper and a labor leader critical of judicial rulings had been appealed to the Supreme Court on the grounds that such criticism was protected by the First Amendment. The Court threw out the citations arguing that while disrespect for the judiciary was indeed a substantive evil, it did not warrant the imposition of restrictions on speech. "What finally emerges from the 'clear and present danger' cases," wrote Justice Hugo Black, "is a working principle that the substantive evil must be extremely serious, and the degree of imminence extremely high, before utterances can be punished."

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