Supreme Court Case: Terminiello v. Chicago

Case Name, Citation and Year Decided

Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949)


In Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949) case, the appellant was Father Arthur Terminiello. The Supreme Court refused the state court’s decision, as well as Justice Douglas; he drew particular attention to the legality of the Chicago ruling based on the First Amendment (Terminiello v. Chicago, n.d.). In this case, the respondents were Chicago, Illinois courts, Robert H. Jackson, and the Chicago police, arresting Terminiello for violating a city ordinance.


Summary of the Facts

In 1949, during a Christian Veterans of America meeting in Chicago, clergyman Arthur Terminiello gave a speech touching on racial, national, and political elements. After hearing the sarcastic, inflammatory comments, more than a thousand people around the hall reacted negatively to the Father’s words, creating riots and mayhems in the building’s auditorium. Concerned about the situation, the Chicago police were unable to stop and prevent the hoot of the people entirely. Subsequently, the police arrested Terminiello, and state judges detained the man on the occasion of “breach of the peace.” In this situation, there was also an appeal to the Fourteenth Amendment.

Father Arthur did not object to the charges brought against him but all the time appealed for the right to freedom of speech enshrined in the U.S. Constitution (337 U.S. 1 (1949), 272, Terminiello v. Chicago, n.d.). According to Justice Douglas, Arthur’s speech is nothing but evidence of an ordinary phenomenon, which in some way can cause disputes (Terminiello v. Chicago, n.d.). Ultimately, the Supreme Court reversed the conviction of making inflammatory public comments against Terminiello in 1949 in Washington on the basis of the First Amendment. At that time, the only punishable behavior was actions aimed at fighting and other cases that could cause bodily harm to any person.

Procedural History of the Case

The results of the work on the case at Illinois courts in the role of the trial courts demonstrate extremely disappointing reviews and decisions concerning the Father from the state judges and their colleagues. The experts in the field of jurisdiction decided that Terminiello violated public order, causing discontent among citizens, various disputes, and riots. Several facts were illustrated when the priest made a scathing speech, criticizing multiple political and racial aspects, as well as the crowd gathered at the hall (Terminiello v. Chicago, n.d.). Thus, Father Arthur’s words touched the hearts and minds of people, added “oil to the fire,” and ignited the conflicts.

Arthur Terminiello appealed to both the circuit court and the Supreme Court. The specialists confirmed the conviction; however, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari (337 U.S. 1 (1949), 272, Terminiello v. Chicago, n.d.). Additionally, based on the situation, it should be assumed that the type of action was mainly focused on civil aspects and directly affected conflicts between people on the basis of ethical harm, diminishing the dignity of an individual, and causing moral suffering. Accordingly, in this case, the type of proceeding is an appeal from a summary judgment. Terminiello was able to ensure that the Supreme Court considered his arguments and overturned the conviction for hooliganism. Moreover, the case dealt with the city ordinance law affecting the violation of public order and incitement. This procedure is not constitutional because it does not take into account the First Amendment.

Issues or Questions Presented

Relying on the situation, it is essential to answer the question of whether the trial judge in Illinois made an incorrect accusation against the “instigator”? The judges also considered questions about whether the content of the speaker’s speech consisted of mocking and belligerent words. However, this issue has become less significant against the background of the other problems. Hence, the legal question submitted to the court for an answer is, “did the Chicago ordinance violate Terminiello’s right of free expression guaranteed by the First Amendment?” (Terminiello v. Chicago, n.d.). Consequently, it is recommended to refer to the First and Fourth Amendments and the state statutes to assess the picture of the situation and give a more correct, correct, and objective answer.

Holding/Decision of The Court

The Court refused the charges brought against Father Arthur on the legal questions raised. Therefore, each of the above questions can be safely answered in a positive way. The US Supreme Court ruled that the charge of “violation of law and order” contradicts the law on freedom of speech at the constitutional level. The Supreme Court made a similar decision based on the First Amendment. According to the majority opinion, freedom of speech can be restricted only if it can create a clear, immediate danger and cause material damage to any parties (Terminiello v. Chicago, n.d.). Ultimately, the Court overturned the lower Court’s decision, and Arthur Terminiello was acquitted of hooliganism.

Additional Elements

Based on the above facts and details, I would like to share my opinion about the Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949) case. Therefore, on the one hand, taking the side of the indignant citizens and judges of Illinois, it should be noted that the “culprit of the outbreak of the conflict” in some way crossed the line of what was permissible; his speech led to the inciting of conflict. On the other hand, taking the side of Arthur Terminiello, one must recognize the phenomenon in which freedom of speech without restrictions and the dissemination of dissent are allowed in the country. According to specific laws, norms, and standards enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, Terminiello’s speech is not a severe crime, and no one from the crowd was injured, at least physically. Therefore, this situation can be viewed from different angles, depending on personal beliefs and values. Nonetheless, it should be remembered that the information established in the primary documents of the state will have more weight and force than the opinions of people.

In this case, freedom of speech should be considered a universal value but not an absolute one. Like all basic human rights, freedom of expression is a fundamental but by no means absolute privilege. Nevertheless, this principle is the mainstay of modern democracy; for example, it is enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution of December 15, 1791. Moreover, the right to freedom of expression is perhaps the most controversial and ambiguous element in the mechanism of modern representative democracy. This freedom was officially enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. However, in an increasing number of countries, it is under real threat, and in other countries, the authorities are persistently trying to test its strength and find out where its borders are.


Terminiello v. Chicago. (n.d.). Oyez.

337 U.S. 1 (1949), 272, Terminiello v. Chicago. (n.d.).

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"Supreme Court Case: Terminiello v. Chicago." LawBirdie, 5 July 2023,


LawBirdie. (2023) 'Supreme Court Case: Terminiello v. Chicago'. 5 July.


LawBirdie. 2023. "Supreme Court Case: Terminiello v. Chicago." July 5, 2023.

1. LawBirdie. "Supreme Court Case: Terminiello v. Chicago." July 5, 2023.


LawBirdie. "Supreme Court Case: Terminiello v. Chicago." July 5, 2023.