Virginia v. Hicks, 539 U.S. 113, 7 (2003)

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Cite as: 539 U. S. 113 (2003)

Opinion of the Court

mate sweep," Broadrick v. Oklahoma, 413 U. S. 601, 615 (1973), suffices to invalidate all enforcement of that law, "until and unless a limiting construction or partial invalidation so narrows it as to remove the seeming threat or deterrence to constitutionally protected expression," id., at 613. See also Virginia v. Black, 538 U. S. 343, 367 (2003); New York v. Ferber, 458 U. S. 747, 769, n. 24 (1982); Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U. S. 479, 491, and n. 7, 497 (1965). We have provided this expansive remedy out of concern that the threat of enforcement of an overbroad law may deter or "chill" constitutionally protected speech—especially when the overbroad statute imposes criminal sanctions. See Schaumburg v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 444 U. S. 620, 634 (1980); Bates v. State Bar of Ariz., 433 U. S. 350, 380 (1977); NAACP v. Button, 371 U. S. 415, 433 (1963). Many persons, rather than undertake the considerable burden (and sometimes risk) of vindicating their rights through case-by-case litigation, will choose simply to abstain from protected speech, Dombrowski, supra, at 486-487—harming not only themselves but society as a whole, which is deprived of an uninhibited marketplace of ideas. Overbreadth adjudication, by suspending all enforcement of an overinclusive law, reduces these social costs caused by the withholding of protected speech.

As we noted in Broadrick, however, there comes a point at which the chilling effect of an overbroad law, significant though it may be, cannot justify prohibiting all enforcement of that law—particularly a law that reflects "legitimate state interests in maintaining comprehensive controls over harmful, constitutionally unprotected conduct." 413 U. S., at 615. For there are substantial social costs created by the over-breadth doctrine when it blocks application of a law to constitutionally unprotected speech, or especially to constitutionally unprotected conduct. To ensure that these costs do not swallow the social benefits of declaring a law "overbroad," we have insisted that a law's application to protected speech


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