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Dennis v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioner, Dennis (Petitioner), was charged with violating the Smith Act (the Act) by organizing the Communist Party of America.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Immediate immanency is not required for a showing of clear and present danger.

    Facts. The Act makes it unlawful for a person to knowingly or willfully advocate overthrowing or destroying the Respondent, United States (Respondent), or to print, publish or distribute printed material advocating such an overthrow. It is also unlawful to organize or help organize a group to overthrow the Respondent. The Petitioner was charged with organizing the Communist Party of America and knowingly and willingly advocating the destruction of the Respondent.

    Issue. Does the Act violate the 1st Amendment?

    Held. No. The Act does not inherently violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) either as applied or construed in this case.

    Dissent. The Act violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.
    Justice Hugo Black (J. Black): The clear and present danger test does no more than set a minimum compulsion of the Bill of Rights.
    Justice William Douglas (J. Douglas): There is no evidence that there is clear and present danger of harm from the organization of this political group.
    Concurrence. Deference must be given to the legislature and its intent in passing such a law. The courts are not justified in second-guessing or limiting the power of the legislature.

    Discussion. The purpose of the law is to protect the government from violent overthrows, which is well within the purview of Congress to legislate. The government is not rendered helpless by the Constitution to defend itself from revolution.


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