Summary of Beauharnais v. Illinois
Facts: P published a leaflet calling on officials to stop black encroachment on white property, citing the “rapes, robberies, knives, guns, and marijuana of the Negro". P was convicted under a statute prohibiting any publication portraying “depravity, criminality, unchastity, or lack of virtue of a class of citizens of any race, color, creed or religion" which exposes such citizens “to contempt, derision or obloquy or which is productive of breach of the peace or riots."
Group libel law applied to circulation of anti-black literature.
Issue: Is group libel punishable?
Holding: Yes, speech or writing that is defamatory is generally not protected by the first amendment and may therefore be subject to libel laws. Just as libel is punishable, group libel is punishable.
Reasoning: Truth is not be a defense if the utterance is made with bad motive or for unjustifiable ends. To pass the libel test, the statement must be both truthful and made with good motives and for justifiable ends.
Because libel is like obscene speech and is not protected by the first amendment, no showing of clear or present danger is necessary.