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Debs v. United States

Citation. 249 U.S. 211, 39 S. Ct. 252, 63 L. Ed. 566, 1919 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Petitioner, Debs (Petitioner), was found guilty for attempting to incite insubordination in the military by giving a speech. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years on each count.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Speech is not protected if one purpose of the speech, incidental or not, is to oppose war efforts.


The Petitioner gave a number of public speeches in Canton, Ohio opposing the war. The theme of his speeches was the benefits of a Socialist society. He focused on the indictments of his ‘comrades’ for helping others evade the draft and the ill effects of war.


Does the Petitioner have a protected right to express himself as he did?


No. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) sustains the charge of attempting to obstruct and obstructing the recruiting service of the Respondent, the United States (Respondent).


The decision is based on the analysis of the likelihood or imminence of harm caused by the speech. Although there appears to be very little evidence of either here, the Supreme Court believed the danger was very real.

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