Stromberg v. California

Facts of the Case

Several defendants including appellant Stromberg, were charged under

Question

Did a state law prohibitng people from flying red flags as a political statement violate the First Amendment?

CONCLUSION

Writing for a 7-2 majority, Chief Justice Charles E. Hughes reversed the conviction because the first reason for prohibiting display of a red flag—“as a sign, symbol, or emblem of opposition to organized government”—was unconstitutional. The Court reasoned that where the jury convicted a defendant generally under any or all of the three reasons, and one of those reasons is struck down, the conviction cannot stand. The Court upheld the second two reasons—“as an invitation or stimulus to anarchistic action” or “as an aid to propaganda that is of a seditious character”—because they protected against incitement to violence.Justice James C. McReynolds dissented, writing that Stromberg’s conviction should stand because the jury convicted her under valid parts of the California law as well. Justice Pierce Butler wrote a separate dissent, writing that the records shows that Stromberg was not convicted under the unconstitutional reason at all, so the conviction should stand.

Case Information

  • Citation: 283 US 359 (1931)
  • Argued: Apr 15, 1931
  • Decided May 18, 1931