1 minute read

Warren Court

First Amendment

The Warren Court sought to protect FIRST AMENDMENT rights. It invalidated the Georgia House of Representatives' exclusion of one of its members because of his antiwar and antidraft statements. The Court also attacked vagueness and overbreadth in compulsory LOYALTY OATHS and ruled against the compulsory disclosure of organization memberships. It moved to invalidate attempts in southern states to inhibit the functioning of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to make public the identities of the organization's members, and to deny its members opportunities for public employment.

During the 1960s, the Court upheld the legitimacy of demonstrations at state capitols and in the streets and sit-ins at segregated lunch counters. It also upheld the right of individuals to picket in a privately owned shopping center and the right of high school students to express their opposition to the VIETNAM WAR by wearing black armbands to school.

The Warren Court also changed state slander and LIBEL laws that stifled open discussion of controversial issues. It held that persons who are public officials or public figures cannot recover damages in a DEFAMATION action unless they prove that a false statement was made with "actual malice" (with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false).

The Court also reviewed many freedom of religion cases, provoking controversy over its interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Warren Court struck down Bible reading and the reciting of state-written prayers in public schools, even those religious acts done on a voluntary basis. The Court did, however, uphold, with qualifications, state aid to children attending religious schools. As to the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause, the Court sought to protect the rights of religious dissenters and nonconformists when it struck down a Maryland constitutional provision requiring the declaration of a belief in God as a prerequisite to holding public office. It also held that an individual need not believe in a supreme being to be eligible for CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR status.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Vest to Water RightsWarren Court - Racial Discrimination, Voting And Reapportionment, Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Right To Privacy, Further Readings