A principle of JUDICIAL REVIEW that holds that a law is invalid if it punishes constitutionally protected speech or conduct along with speech or conduct that the government may limit to further a compelling government interest.
Legislatures sometimes pass laws that
infringe on the FIRST AMENDMENT freedoms of
religion, speech, press, and peaceable assembly.
When a legislature passes such a law, a person
with a sufficient interest affected by the legisla-
tion may challenge its constitutionality by
bringing suit against the federal, state, or local
sovereignty that passed it. One common argu-
ment in First Amendment challenges is that the
statute is overbroad.
Under the overbreadth doctrine, a statute
that affects First Amendment rights is unconsti-
tutional if it prohibits more protected speech or
activity than is necessary to achieve a compelling
government interest. The excessive intrusion on
First Amendment rights, beyond what the gov-
ernment had a compelling interest to restrict,
renders the law unconstitutional.
If a statute is overbroad, the court may be
able to save the statute by striking only the sec-
tion that is overbroad. If the court cannot sever
the statute and save the constitutional provi-
sions, it may invalidate the entire statute.
The case of Brockett v. Spokane Arcades, Inc.,
472 U.S. 491, 105 S. Ct. 2794, 86 L. Ed. 2d 394
(1985), illustrates how the overbreadth doctrine
works. At issue in Brockett was an OBSCENITY
statute passed by the state of Washington. The
statute declared to be a moral NUISANCE any
place where lewd films were shown as a regular
course of business and any place where lewd
publications constituted a principal part of the
stock in trade. Lewd matter was defined as being
obscene matter, or any matter that appeals to the
prurient interest. Under the statute the term
prurient was defined as tending to incite lascivi-
ousness or lust.
The Supreme Court in Brockett ruled that
the Washington statute was overbroad because it