Edwards v. South Carolina – The Right to Unpopular Views

There have been many court cases that involved the civil rights of African Americans. Most people have heard of Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 case that declared segregated public schools to be unconstitutional. A case you may not be aware of is Edwards v. South Carolina which was decided on February 23, 1963.

“The Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. South Carolina that the Fourteenth Amendment does not permit the State “to make criminal the peaceful expression of unpopular views.” Civil disobedience is declared a legal act performed by citizens of the state to express their grievances.”¹

“Facts of the case

187 black students were convicted in a magistrate’s court of breach of the peace for peacefully assembling at the South Carolina State Government. Their purpose was to submit a protest of grievances to the citizens of South Carolina, and to the legislative bodies of South Carolina. During the course of the peaceful demonstration, the police arrested the students after they did not obey an order to disperse. The students were convicted of breach of the peace. After their convictions were affirmed by the state supreme court, the students sought further review. They contended that there was a complete absence of any evidence of the commission of the offense and that they were thus denied due process of law.


Did the arrests and convictions of the marchers violate their freedom of speech, assembly, and petition for redress of their grievances as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments?


The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment allows the Free Petition Clause to extend to the states as well as the federal government.

In an 8-1 decision authored by Justice Potter Stewart, the Court reversed the criminal convictions of the black students. It was clear to the Court that in arresting, convicting, and punishing the students under the circumstances disclosed by the record, the state infringed the students’ constitutionally protected rights of free speech, free assembly, and freedom to petition for redress of their grievances.”²


¹ columbiasc63.com, ² oyez.org/cases/1962/86


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