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An Introduction to Constitutional Law » R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul

An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

In the predawn hours of June 21, 1990, R.A.V., a juvenile, and several other teenagers, allegedly assembled a crudely made cross by taping together broken chair legs. (The defendant was identified by his initials because he was a minor.) They then allegedly burned the cross inside the fenced yard of an African-American family. The City of St. Paul convicted R.A.V. of violating its bias-motivated crime ordinance. This law prohibited the dis- play of a symbol that one knows or has reason to know will “arouse[] anger, alarm, or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, or gender.”

During oral argument, St. Paul’s lawyer defended the constitutionality of the ordinance: “The First Amendment was never intended to protect an individual who burns a cross in the middle of the night in the fenced yard of an African-American family’s home.”

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