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Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire 315 U.S. 568 (1941)

CHAPLINSKY v. NEW HAMPSHIRE 315 U.S. 568 (1941)

In Chaplinsky, Justice frank murphy, writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, introduced into first amendment jurisprudence the two-level theory that "There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or " fighting words "—those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace." Chaplinsky itself arose under a "fighting words" statute, which the state court had interpreted to punish "words likely to cause an average addressee to fight." In this narrow context the decision can be seen as an application of the clear and present danger test. cohen v. california (1971), emphasizing this rationale, offered protection to an obscenity that created no danger of violence.

In its broader conception of categories of speech excluded from First Amendment protection, the case served as an important doctrinal source for many later obscenity and libel decisions.

Martin Shapiro
(1986)

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