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With the case in this posture, it does not seem inappropriate to inquire whether any other rationale might properly support this result. He held that § 415 "is not unconstitutionally vague and overbroad," and further said: [T]hat part of Penal Code section 415 in question here makes punishable only willful and malicious conduct that is violent and endangers public safety and order or that creates a clear and present danger that others will engage in violence of that nature. The question of our jurisdiction need not detain us long. The conviction quite clearly rests upon the asserted offensiveness of the words Cohen used to convey his message to the public. 359 (1931), not upon any separately identifiable conduct which allegedly was intended by Cohen to be perceived by others as expressive of particular views but which, on its face, does not necessarily convey any message, and hence arguably could be regulated without effectively repressing Cohen's ability to express himself. In the second place, as it comes to us, this case cannot be said to fall within those relatively few categories of [p20] instances where prior decisions have established the power of government to deal more comprehensively with certain forms of individual expression simply upon a showing that such a form was employed. Whatever else may be necessary to give rise to the States' broader power to prohibit obscene expression, such expression must be, in some significant way, erotic. And, while it may be that one has a more substantial claim to a recognizable privacy interest when walking through a courthouse corridor than, for example, strolling through Central Park, surely it is nothing like the interest in [p22] being free from unwanted expression in the confines of one's own home. There may be some persons about with such lawless and violent proclivities, but that is an insufficient base upon which to erect, consistently with constitutional values, a governmental power to force persons who wish to ventilate their dissident views into avoiding particular forms of expression. We [p24] think, however, that examination and reflection will reveal the shortcomings of a contrary viewpoint. At least so long as there is no showing of an intent to incite disobedience to or disruption of the draft, Cohen could not, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, be punished for asserting the evident position on the inutility or immorality of the draft his jacket reflected. Any attempt to support this conviction on the ground that the statute seeks to preserve an appropriately decorous atmosphere in the courthouse where Cohen was arrested must fail in the absence of any language in the statute that would have put appellant on notice that certain kinds of otherwise permissible speech or conduct would nevertheless, under California law, not be tolerated in certain places. This Court has also held that the States are free to ban the simple use, without a demonstration of additional justifying circumstances, of so-called "fighting words," those personally abusive epithets which, when addressed to the ordinary citizen, are, as a matter of common knowledge, inherently likely to provoke violent reaction. Those in the Los Angeles courthouse could effectively avoid further bombardment of their sensibilities simply by averting their eyes. We have been shown no evidence that substantial numbers of citizens are standing ready to strike out physically at whoever may assault their sensibilities with execrations like that uttered by Cohen. Admittedly, it is not so obvious that the First and Fourteenth Amendments must be taken to disable the States from punishing public utterance of this unseemly expletive in order to maintain what they regard as a suitable level of discourse within the body politic. J., and BLACK, J., joined, and in which WHITE, J., joined in part, TOP Opinion HARLAN, J., Opinion of the Court MR. This case may seem at first blush too inconsequential to find its way into our books, but the issue it presents is of no small constitutional significance. It is, in sum, our judgment that, absent a more particularized and compelling reason for its actions, the State may not, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, make the simple public display here involved of this single four-letter expletive a criminal offense.
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