Beauharnais (defendant) was convicted by the Municipal Court of Chicago for violating the Illinois Criminal Code’s prohibition of the distribution of materials or literature that was derogatory to a class of citizens of any race, color, creed, or religion. Beauharnais was arrested after he printed and distributed a lithograph that made offensive statements about African Americans in violation of the laws of the State of Illinois (plaintiff). A state trial court found Beauharnais guilty and sentenced him to thirty days in prison. His conviction was affirmed in the court of appeals and the state supreme court. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.