Brandenburg v. Ohio | 1969
Columbia University Knight First Amendment Institute Senior Attorney
Former AClU President 1991-2008 New York Law School Professor
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Subject: Redefining Freedom of Speech
Case Decided:
June 9, 1969

Brandenburg v. Ohio established the Imminent Lawless Action test used to determine when speech protected under the First Amendment can be lawfully restricted. In Brandenburg, the Court held that hate speech is protected under the First Amendment as long as it does not provoke violence.

Clarence Brandenburg, a KKK leader in Ohio, allowed a television station to broadcast the KKK rally he was a part of. During the rally, Brandenburg gave a speech targeting the government and people of color. Because of an Ohio statute that criminalized syndicalism, Brandenburg was fined and sentenced to one to ten years in prison.

After filing an appeal and being dismissed by the lower courts, the case then reached the Supreme Court. In a per curiam decision, the Court established that Brandenburg did not incite or produce imminent lawless action and therefore, the Ohio statute was a violation of Brandenburg's First Amendment rights.

Key Players
Clarence Brandenburg
Clarence Brandenburg was a Ku Klux Klan leader in Ohio. Brandenburg held a KKK rally which he allowed to be televised. He gave a speech on television describing the “revengeance” against certain ethnicities and the American government. Due to this speech, Brandenburg was charged for breaking the Ohio Criminal Syndicalism Act and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Brandenburg filed an appeal, claiming a violation of his First Amendment rights.
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