Slippery Slope Arguments in History: Cohen v. California (1971)

June 14, 2022   |   Tags: ,
slippery

From Justice Harlan's majority opinion:

[T]he principle contended for by the State [which would allow the punishment of Cohen for wearing a jacket saying "Fuck the Draft"] seems inherently boundless. How is one to distinguish this from any other offensive word? Surely the State has no right to cleanse public debate to the point where it is grammatically palatable to the most squeamish among us.

Yet no readily ascertainable general principle exists for stopping short of that result were we to affirm the judgment below. For, while the particular four-letter word being litigated here is perhaps more distasteful than most others of its genre, it is nevertheless often true that one man's vulgarity is another's lyric. Indeed, we think it is largely because governmental officials cannot make principled distinctions in this area that the Constitution leaves matters of taste and style so largely to the individual.

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