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United States v. O'Brien

United States Supreme Court
391 U.S. 367 (1968)



Every male in the United States over the age of 18 was required by the Universal Military Training and Service Act (UMTSA) to register with a local draft board. Each registrant was assigned a number and given a registration certificate (also called a draft card). In 1966, David Paul O’Brien and three others (defendants) burned their draft cards on the steps of the South Boston Courthouse. O’Brien was indicted by the United States Government (plaintiff) and convicted after a jury trial in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The indictment charged that O'Brien “willfully and knowingly did mutilate, destroy, and change by burning his Registration Certificate” in violation of the UMTSA, as amended in 1965. That act made it a crime for a person to forge, alter, knowingly destroy, knowingly mutilate, or in any manner change a registration certificate. O’Brien appealed his conviction, and the court of appeals reversed on the grounds that the UMTSA violated the First Amendment. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Warren, C.J.)

Concurrence (Harlan, J.)

Dissent (Douglas, J.)

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