Overbreadth Doctrine

(redirected from Overly broad)

Overbreadth Doctrine

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 legislation may challenge its constitutionality by bringing suit against the federal, state, or local sovereignty that passed it. One common argument in First Amendment challenges is that the statute is overbroad.

Under the overbreadth doctrine, a statute that affects First Amendment rights is unconstitutional 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 government 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 section that is overbroad. If the court cannot sever the statute and save the constitutional provisions, 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 lasciviousness or lust.

The Supreme Court in Brockett ruled that the Washington statute was overbroad because it prohibited lust-inciting materials. According to the Court, because lust is a normal sexual appetite, materials that include an appeal to lust enjoy First Amendment protection. Therefore, a statute that prohibits any material arousing lust is constitutionally overbroad.

The remedy in the Brockett case was not complete invalidation of the moral nuisance law. The Court directed that the reference to lust be excised from the statute and stated that the rest of the statute was valid. The statute, though originally overbroad, was still valid because it contained a severability clause and was still effective after its overbroad portion was struck.


Compelling State Interest; Freedom of Speech; Freedom of the Press.

References in periodicals archive ?
The lawsuit also argues that Rosensteins order appointing Mueller was overly broad and arbitrary.
Alaska Native and rural economies across our state are being negatively impacted by overly broad bans on not just elephant ivory but walrus and mammoth ivory, said Senator Sullivan.
Amnesty International says Taheri is a prisoner of conscience and has condemned Iran's use of capital punishment "for vaguely worded or overly broad offences, or acts that should not be criminalised at all.
In a letter asking Abbott to veto SB 24, Americans United Legislative Director Maggie Garrett acknowledged the Houston debacle was an overly broad request that AU spoke out against at the time.
In a letter to Treasury and the IRS on January 17, 2017, AICPA Tax Executive Committee Chair Annette Nellen wrote, the regulations "are overly broad and expand the breadth of section 2704 in a manner not contemplated by Congress.
The application of overly broad and vague criminal charges, coupled with a disdain for the rights of the accused to due process and a fair trial have in these cases led to a grave injustice, Prince Zeid said.
The DOL's overly broad definition of a Cyfiduciary' could negatively affect credit unions who offer investment services through arrangements with third-party brokers by subjecting them to overly burdensome compliance hurdles for providing the opportunity for services, despite minimal involvement," CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle said in a February letter to members of Congress.
However, FCRA's broad and vague terms such as 'political nature', 'economic interest of the State' or 'public interest' are overly broad, do not conform to a prescribed aim, and are not a proportionate responses to the purported goal of the restriction, it said.
The NLRB has even found that some Employer policies about privacy, social media and what employees are permitted to "talk" about are overly broad, meaning the policy prohibits lawful communication among co-workers.
media organizations have urged the judge to avoid an overly broad investigation.
Information requests were denied for a number of reasons, among them failure to identify a specific Tweet or Twitter account, as well as overly broad requests or challenges made by those targeted, the report said.
A host of characters that are no more than caricatures does little to help the overly broad plot coalesce into anything coherent or enjoyable.