Beauharnais v. Illinois Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Petitioner, Beauharnais (Petitioner), president of the White Circle League, organized the distribution of a leaflet setting forth a petition calling on the mayor and the city counsel of Chicago to “halt the further encroachment, harassment and invasion of white people, their property, neighborhoods and persons, by the Negro.” The leaflet called for “one million self-respecting white people in Chicago to unite” and added that, “if persuasion and the need to prevent the white race from becoming mongrelized by the Negro will not unite us, then the aggressions, rapes, robberies, knives, guns and marijuana of the Negro surely will.” Attached to the leaflet was an application for membership in the league.

Facts of the case

Joseph Beauharnais circulated leaflets petitioning Chicago government officials to halt the encroachment, harassment, and invasion of white people and call whites to unite against the violence perpetrated by African-Americans. He was convicted under a state law that prohibited libel against any class of citizens of a certain race, color, creed, or religion if it might cause unrest or a breach of the peace. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed his conviction.


Whether the United States Constitution (Constitution) prevents a state from punishing libels directed at designated collectivities and that are flagrantly disseminated?


The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) finds no warrant in the Constitution for denying Illinois the power to pass the law under attack in this case. As a result, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.


“The Court upheld the constitutionality of the challenged statute, holding that the protection of “”liberty”” in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did not prevent a state from punishing a criminal libel directed at defined groups, such as specified in the statute. According to the Court, since libelous utterances were not within the area of constitutionally protected speech, it was not necessary for the Court to consider the issues raised by the denial of petitioner’s request that the jury be instructed that, in order to convict, they must find that the publication complained of was likely to produce a “”clear and present danger”” of a substantial evil.”

  • Case Brief: 1952
  • Petitioner: Joseph Beauharnais
  • Respondent: Illinois
  • Decided by: Vinson Court

Citation: 343 US 250 (1952)
Argued: Nov 28, 1951
Decided: Apr 28, 1952