Gooding v. Wilson

LOCATION: Georgia State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 70-26
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 405 US 518 (1972)
ARGUED: Dec 08, 1971
DECIDED: Mar 23, 1972

Courtney Wilder Stanton - for appellant
Elizabeth R. Rindskopf - for appellee

Facts of the case

A Georgia state court convicted Johnny Wilson of violating a state statute. The statute provided that "[a]ny person who shall, without provocation, use to or of another, and in his presence . . . opprobrious words or abusive language, tending to cause a breach of the peace . . . shall be guilty of a misdemeanor." On appeal, Mr. Wilson argued that the statute violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Georgia Supreme Court rejected the argument. Mr. Wilson successfully sought habeas corpus relief from a Georgia federal district court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed.


Does the Georgia statute prohibiting the use of "opprobrious words or abusive language, tending to cause a breach of the peace" violate the First Amendment as applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Gooding v. Wilson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1971 in Gooding v. Wilson

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in number 26, Gooding against Wilson.

Mr. Stanton, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Courtney Wilder Stanton:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This matter is before this Court on an appeal from the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit declaring to be unconstitutional upon its face, a Georgia Statute prescribing the unprovoked use to or of another and in his presence opprobrious words or abuse language, tending to a breach of the peace.

Unless the Court has some other direction it would like to give me, I would like to cover basically what I consider to be the points of drawing issue of the briefs submitted by the two sides.

First of all, the question of whether or not this case is controlled adversely to acquisition by the decision of this Court in Edwards against South Carolina.

I would seek permission from the Court to add one additional citation to what I consider to be controlling state authority only on substation of an element of this particular offense which I inadvertently omitted from my brief.

That case is the decision of Garvin against the Mayor.

How do you spell that?

Courtney Wilder Stanton:

G-A-R-V-I-N Your Honor, which is found at 15 Georgia Appeals Reports at page 636, or in the regional system from the first series of South Eastern Reports, page 84, excuse me volume 84, page 91 decision from year 1915.

84 Southeast?

Courtney Wilder Stanton:

First series.

Yes, 91?

Courtney Wilder Stanton:

Page 91 is where the decision is covered.

The appellees, Garvin against the?

Courtney Wilder Stanton:



Courtney Wilder Stanton:

It is the title of the officer, Your Honor.

Harry A. Blackmun:


Incidentally, it is a decision in your State of the Court of Appeals controlling throughout the state?

Courtney Wilder Stanton:

It is controlling unless it is reverse by a decision of Supreme Court of Georgia which would mean in conflict with it, in other words, it would have the same effect on the Trial Courts, a decision of a Court of Appeals sitting in that Circuit upon the District within the Circuit.

Harry A. Blackmun:

What about a Trial Court sitting in another Circuit?

Courtney Wilder Stanton:

Well, we only have one Court of Appeal, Your Honor.


Courtney Wilder Stanton:

That sits in Atlanta and it has statewide jurisdiction.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Incidentally are the facts acknowledged to be correctly stated in the Georgia Supreme Court opinion?

Courtney Wilder Stanton:

Well, I am not really all that familiar with the facts in this case because of the facial question that was presented.

We did not go into a great detail on the record in the case.

I feel that we can take the issues that were raised before the Supreme Court of Georgia as being issues that were raised before the Supreme Court.

In other words, these were the enumerations of the questions that were laid before the State Court for determination.