At the end of the case Beauharnais vs Illinois, the Associate Justice Black said:

In his dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Black quoted Pyrrhus of Epirus by alluding to the term Pyrrhic victory: "If minority groups hail this holding as their victory, they might consider the possible relevancy of this ancient remark: 'Another such victory and I am undone'"

However my understanding of the case is that in fine, it was validated by court decision that an hate speech against some minorities could be blocked because it was considered to break the libel law, even if the 1st Amendement was invoked to deny such blocking. So in what sense was it a Pyrrhic victory?

2 Answers 2


You can find your answer by following up on the author, Hugo Black. The Wikipedia article on Black mentions that one of Blacks' views was that of staunch support for the first amendment:

and his absolutist stance on the First Amendment, often declaring "No law [abridging the freedom of speech] means no law."

So his comment (possibly tainted by his former membership in the KKK) reflects the fact that a law which restricted hate speech also degraded the first amendment in the process. A similar attitude can be found in one of those quotes often misattributed to Voltaire:

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."


He foresaw a day when the people suing in support of the law, or those who would follow them, would find themselves in legal trouble because something they said was deemed hate speech.

By having it deemed an exception to free speech, they were laying themselves open to such trouble. Their own right to free speech -- the importance of which he deemed absolute -- was going to be invalidated.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.