34 UCLA L. Rev. 1595 (1986-1987)
A Look Back at Cohen v. California

handle is hein.journals/uclalr34 and id is 1611 raw text is: A LOOK BACK AT COHEN v. CALIFORNIA
William Cohen*
There are great constitutional cases argued before the
United States Supreme Court. With the exception of Mel
Nimmer, no one thought at the time of argument that Cohen
v. California I was such a case. Justice Harlan began his opin-
ion for the Court with the apologetic statement that the
''case may seem at first blush too inconsequential to find its
way into our books .       ...2 1 was Mel Nimmer's colleague
when he began his representation of the defendant in that
case3 and, as we talked about it, I confess that this was my
first blush impression too. Mel, however, had a love affair
with the First Amendment4 and saw the large issues of the
theory of freedom of speech hidden in the homely facts sur-
rounding Cohen's breach of the peace conviction. It is a
lasting tribute to Mel's advocacy in the Supreme Court that
he convinced a majority of the justices that the case involved
an issue of no small constitutional significance5 that re-
quired a reversal of Cohen's conviction.
* C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law, Stanford University.
1. 403 U.S. 15 (1971).
2. Id. at 15.
3. The case was argued and decided in the United States Supreme Court
after I left U.C.L.A. for Stanford, but the California Court of Appeal had affirmed
Cohen's conviction in 1969 when I was still on the U.C.L.A. faculty. People v.
Cohen, 1 Cal. App. 3d 94, 81 Cal. Rptr. 503 (1969), rev'd, 403 U.S. 15 (1971).
4. In a comment on style in the preface to his treatise, Mel said: As every-
one knows-with the glaring exception of law review editors-it is the First
Amendment, not the first amendment. Those who believe in freedom of speech
should begin by rejecting the tyranny of the Uniform System of Citation. M.
NIMMER, FREEDOM OF SPEECH: A TREATISE ON THE FIRST AMENDMENT vii (1984)
[hereinafter TREATISE]. I have also opted for the First Amendment rather than
the first amendment and the UCLA Law Review promised to leave it alone.
5. 403 U.S. at 15.

1595

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