The Supreme Court: Not for Burning


On a blustery March day in 1966, four young men touched a gas burner to their draft cards and reclassification notices on the steps of the South Boston Courthouse. Well publicized in advance by the students, the happening attracted a large gallery, including several FBI agents. For their draft resistance, three of the youths were sent to prison for up to three years; the fourth, David P. O'Brien, a 19-year-old Boston University freshman, was sentenced under the Federal Youth Correction Act to a stiff term of up to six years.

O'Brien took his case to a court of appeals,...

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