In R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, the United States Supreme Court struck a St. Paul, Minnesota ordinance prohibiting bias-motivated disorderly conduct, holding that the ordinance was facially invalid under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Police arrested Petitioner R.A.V., then a juvenile, and charged him with violating a city ordinance, which provided:
[w]hoever places on public or private property a symbol, object, appellation, characterization or graffiti, including, but not limited to, a burning cross or Nazi swastika, which one knows or has reasonable grounds to know arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender commits disorderly conduct and shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
The trial court granted R.A.V.'s motion to dismiss this count on the ground that the "ordinance was substantially overbroad and impermissibly content-based and therefore facially invalid under the First Amendment.
On appeal, the Supreme Court of Minnesota reversed, rejecting R.A.V.'s overbreadth claim, and construing the phrase "'arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others", to limit the reach of the ordinance to "fighting words," which are not protected by the First Amendment. The court also noted that the ordinance, if so interpreted, was narrowly tailored to accomplish the compelling governmental goal of 'protecting the community against bias-motivated threats to public safety and order.' The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari on June 10, 1991.
This Casenote will first describe the United States Supreme Court's reasoning in reaching its decision and will then analyze this reasoning in light of First Amendment precedent.
Tracy Lynne Hulsey, Note, R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul: The Right Decision, Flawed Reasoning, 44 Mercer L. Rev. 1015 (1993).