American Government Honors
21 October 2011
Edward V. South Carolina: Facts of Cause
1.Facts of case
Edwards v. South Carolina (1963) was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution forbade state government officials to force a crowd to disperse when they are otherwise legally marching in front of a state house. The 187 petitioners consisted of African-American high school and college students who peacefully assembled at the Zion Baptist Church in Columbia South Carolina on March 2, 1961. The students marched in separate groups of roughly 15 to South Carolina State House grounds to peacefully express their grievances regarding civil rights of African-Americans. The crowd of petitioners did not engage in any violent conduct and did not threaten violence in any manner, nor did crowds gathering to witness the demonstration engage in any such behavior. Petitioners were told by police officials that they must disperse within 15 minutes or face arrest. The petitioners failed to disperse, opting to sing religious and patriotic songs instead. Petitioners were convicted of the common law crime of breach of the peace. Their purpose was "to submit a protest to the citizens of South Carolina, along with the Legislative Bodies of South Carolina, our feelings and our dissatisfaction with the present condition of discriminatory actions against Negroes, in general, and to let them know that we were dissatisfied and that we would like for the laws which prohibited Negro privileges in this State to be removed." 2.Issues
As stated before, approximately two hundred African‐American high school and college students walked in groups of fifteen from a church in Columbia, South Carolina, to the grounds of the state capitol, an area normally open to the public. Their purpose in visiting this traditional public forum was to protest discrimination against blacks and to seek repeal of the laws that produced unequal treatment. Three dozen law enforcement officers were on the capitol grounds when the demonstrators arrived. They informed the students of their right to be peacefully present there. For the better part of an hour, the demonstrators walked through the grounds in an orderly fashion carrying placards expressing their pride in being black and their opposition to segregation. During this time, a crowd of two hundred to three hundred curious, but no hostile, onlookers gathered at the periphery of the capitol grounds. Police protection at all times was adequate to meet any foreseeable possibility of disorder. Nonetheless, the police informed the students that they would be arrested if they did not disperse within fifteen minutes. The students commenced to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” and other patriotic and religious songs. When fifteen minutes expired, the students were arrested and their conviction for common law breach of the peace was upheld by the South Carolina Supreme Court. 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. Some constitutional issues were also, if the Columbia police were abusing their power when they ordered the demonstration to disperse? Had South Carolina taken a very narrow view of exactly what constituted a “breach of the peace”? Were the convictions for “breach of the peace” unconstitutional? Was there any evidence to convict the marchers for “breach of the peace”? And had any breach of the peace been, in fact, committed? 3. Ruling- Majority
The Supreme Court held that in arresting, convicting and punishing the petitioners, South Carolina infringed on the petitioners’ rights of free speech, free assembly and freedom to petition for a redress of grievances. The Court stated that these rights are guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the Fourteenth...