Beyond the Burning Cross: A Landmark Case of Race, Censorship, and the First Amendment

Beyond the Burning Cross: A Landmark Case of Race, Censorship, and the First Amendment

by Edward J. Cleary
     
 

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Here is the story of the controversial landmark decision by the lawyer who took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Although he detested the crime his client had committed in 1990, Cleary believed First Amendment rights were being threatened. The Supreme Court agreed.

Overview

Here is the story of the controversial landmark decision by the lawyer who took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Although he detested the crime his client had committed in 1990, Cleary believed First Amendment rights were being threatened. The Supreme Court agreed.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is a worthy, instructive account of a free speech case that caused deep rifts in America's progressive firmament. On June 21, 1990, a cross was burned on the lawn of a black family, Russell and Laura Jones and their five children, who had recently moved into a mostly white working-class neighborhood in St. Paul, Minn. One suspect pleaded guilty; the other defendant, 17-year-old Robert Anthony Viktora, was not charged for his conduct under statutes prohibiting threats but under a little-used ordinance targeting motivation (prohibiting symbols aimed at provoking racial, religious and other types of animosity). Public defender Cleary, while finding his client's act abhorrent, considered that the statute had implications threatening to First Amendment rights, and appealed. Here he offers a useful minihistory of free speech doctrine and, in an account that should absorb lawyers and general readers alike, describes the path of the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Included are comments of law professors and liberal groups who were critical of Cleary's position. But in June 1992, the Court invalidated the ordinance (9-0), and Cleary muses that laws criminalizing bigoted motivation are dangerous and not useful in fighting prejudice. (Sept.)
Library Journal
A burning cross, placed on the lawn of a black family living in a white neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota, led to the enactment of a sweeping "hate crimes" ordinance. Under this regulation's language, a youth known as R.A.V. and another were prosecuted. But, as Nat Hentoff observes in the introduction, "it was the First Amendment, not cross-burning, that powered this case." Lawyer Cleary represented R.A.V. from the beginning to the arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, whose 1992 decision was truly a victory of the First Amendment. Ultimately, this case underscores the troubling conflict between our ideas of civil rights and civil liberties. Cleary's book certainly achieves its most basic purpose, telling the story of one conflict resolved in the courts. Yet like Anthony Lewis's classic Gideon's Trumpet, it does much more than that, giving readers the opportunity to follow the course of law in the making. Highly recommended.-Jerry E. Stephens, U.S. Court of Appeals Lib., Oklahoma City

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679747031
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/26/1995
Pages:
340
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.75(d)

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