For Law Students

Join Now

F*ck, your rights to free speech (Cohen v. California)

Quimbee Cohen v California

This is the latest in a series of case brief videos. Have you signed up for your Quimbee membership? The American Bar Association offers three months of Quimbee study aids (a $72 value) for law student members. And if you go Premium, you’ll receive Quimbee Legal Ethics Outline (a $29 value) as part of our Premium Legal Ethics Bundle. Ready to go all in? Go Platinum and get 3 years of unlimited access to Quimbee and 3 years of ABA Premium membership (nearly a $1,000 value) for just $499.

Paul Robert Cohen showed up in the Los Angeles County Courthouse wearing a jacket emblazoned with the words: “Fuck the Draft.” Women and children were present in the courthouse, and the words were clearly visible on Cohen’s jacket.

The police arrested Cohen. He was later convicted of disturbing the peace and sentenced to 30 days imprisonment.

Cohen challenged his conviction on constitutional grounds. When the California Supreme Court refused to hear the case, Cohen sought review in the United States Supreme Court. The Court considered whether the conviction violated Cohen’s First Amendment rights.

The Court noted that Cohen’s jacket did not fit within any of the recognized exceptions to the Constitution’s protection of the freedom of expression. The jacket lacked any prurient or erotic elements, meaning it wasn’t obscene. Further, the jacket couldn’t be categorized as fighting words, because it wasn’t insulting to any individual or likely to provoke a violent reaction.

Lastly, the state’s interest in protecting public morals was insufficient to justify the arrest, because sensitive people were free to avert their eyes.

Ultimately, the Court struck down Cohen’s conviction, affirming the First Amendment’s protection of offensive expression.

Quimbee Quimbee is one of the most widely used and respected study aids for law students. With a massive and growing library of case briefs, video lessons, practice exams, and multiple-choice questions, Quimbee helps its members achieve academic success in law school.