Feiner v. New York Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Petitioner, Feiner (Petitioner), was convicted of disorderly conduct for refusing to stop giving a speech on a public sidewalk once the crowd started to get a little rowdy.

Facts of the case

In 1949, Irving Feiner, a white student at Syracuse University, made an inflammatory speech on a street corner in Syracuse, New York. In urging his racially mixed audience to fight for equal rights, Feiner made several disparaging remarks about local politicians, organizations, and President Truman. Two officers on the scene, fearing violence, asked Feiner to end his speech. After he refused, the officers arrested Feiner for inciting a breach of the peace. A trial court found Feiner guilty and sentenced him to thirty days in prison. On appeal, Feiner argued his arrest violated his right to free speech under the First Amendment.

Question

Was the disruption of the speech to prevent a riot constitutional?

Answer

Yes. The conviction should not be reversed because there was great potential for a riot and the Petitioner defied the police request.

Conclusion

The Court affirmed the exercise of the police officers’ proper discretionary power to prevent a breach of the peace. It found the officers were not arresting Petitioner for the content or the making of his speech, but that they were motivated solely by a proper concern for the preservation of order and protection of the general welfare.

  • Case Brief: 1951
  • Petitioner: Irving Feiner
  • Respondent: New York
  • Decided by: Vinson Court

Citation: 340 US 315 (1951)
Argued: Oct 17, 1950
Decided: Jan 15, 1951