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Whitney v. California

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Constitutional Law Keyed to Stone

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Citation. 274 U.S. 357, 47 S. Ct. 641; 71 L. Ed. 1095; 1927 U.S. 1011.

Brief Fact Summary. The California Criminal Syndicalism Act (the Act) prohibited any person to knowingly become a member of any organization that advocates “Criminal Syndicalism.” The Defendant, Anita Whitney (Defendant), was affiliated with an organization that adopted a “Left Wing Manifesto” and therefore convicted under the act.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. A State may constitutionally prohibit its citizens from knowingly being or becoming a member of an organization that advocates criminal syndicalism consistently with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).


Facts. The Act prohibited any person to knowingly become a member of any organization that advocates the commission of unlawful acts as a means of accomplishing a change in industrial ownership or effecting a political change. The Defendant was a member of the Oakland branch of the Socialist Party, which later formed the Communist Labor Party (“CLP”). The CLP adopted a Left Wing Manifesto similar to that at issue in Gitlow. Shortly thereafter, the Defendant attended a conference in Oakland for the purpose of organizing a California branch of the CLA. As a result, the Appellant was charged under the Act.

Issue. Did the Defendant’s knowingly being or becoming a member of an organization that advocated “criminal syndicalism” involve sufficient danger to the public peace that the State could constitutionally penalize her for it?

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