Brandenburg v. Ohio Case Brief

Why is the case important?

An Ohio law prohibited the teaching or advocacy of the doctrines of criminal syndicalism. The Defendant, Brandenburg (Defendant), a leader in the Ku Klux Klan, made a speech promoting the taking of vengeful actions against government and was therefore convicted under the Ohio Law.

Facts of the case

“Brandenburg, a leader in the Ku Klux Klan, made a speech at a Klan rally and was later convicted under an Ohio criminal syndicalism law. The law made illegal advocating “”crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform,”” as well as assembling “”with any society, group, or assemblage of persons formed to teach or advocate the doctrines of criminal syndicalism.”””


Did the Statute, prohibiting public speech that advocated certain violent activities, violate the Defendant’s right to free speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution (Constitution)?


(Per Curiam) The Act properly made it illegal to advocate or teach doctrines of violence, but did not address the issue of whether such advocacy or teaching would actually incite imminent lawlessness. The mere abstract teaching of the need or propriety to resort to violence is not the same as preparing a group for violent action. Because the statute failed to provide for the second part of the test it was overly broad and thus in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution.


Ohio’s criminal syndicalism statute did not draw a distinction between teaching the need for force or violence and preparing a group for violent action, hence the statute unconstitutionally intruded on the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Const. amends. I and XIV .

  • Case Brief: 1969
  • Appellant: Clarence Brandenburg
  • Appellee: State of Ohio
  • Decided by: Warren Court

Citation: 395 US 444 (1969)
Argued: Feb 27, 1969
Decided: Jun 9, 1969