Friday, November 15, 2013

United States v. O’Brien case brief

United States v. O’Brien case brief summary
391 U.S. 367 (1968)

Petitioner government and defendant anti-war protester sought review of a judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, holding in part that the 1965 amendment to the Universal Military Training and Service Act of 1948, which prohibited the knowing destruction or mutilation of Selective Service registration certificates, ran afoul of U.S. Constitutional amendment I by singling out persons engaged in protests for special treatment.

The 1965 amendment to the Universal Military Training and Service Act of 1948 prohibited the knowing destruction of Selective Service registration certificates. Defendant was convicted and sentenced after he publicly burned his registration certificate in an attempt to influence others to adopt his antiwar beliefs. Defendant argued that the amendment was unconstitutional in its application and as enacted because of Congress' alleged purpose to suppress freedom of speech.


  • The Court held that a sufficient governmental interest justified the conviction because of the government's substantial interest in assuring the continuing availability of issued Selective Service certificates, because the amendment condemned only the independent non-communicative impact of conduct within its reach, and because the non-communicative impact of defendant's act frustrated the government's interest. 
  • Further, an otherwise constitutional statute would not have been struck down on the basis of an alleged illicit legislative motive.


The Court vacated the judgment.

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