The Supreme Court: The Test That Wasn't a Test

Civil rights demonstrators have frequently invoked an American tradition that is as old as the country itself: the First Amendment "right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Harried police have often invoked something else: the power of every state to preserve the public peace and protect property rights. The conflict has faced the Supreme Court with a dilemma: When does state police power take precedence over the First Amendment's protections for peaceful demonstrators?

In case after case in past years, the court answered the question by throwing out convictions for...

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