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Whitney v. California

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

    Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioner, Whitney (Petitioner), was convicted of organizing a group that would use unlawful acts of force, violence and terrorism to accomplish industrial and political change.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A state may prohibit the organizing of an association that advocates the commission of crimes or unlawful acts of force to achieve goals that are a danger to general public interest.


    Facts. The Petitioner was originally a member of the national socialist party. She attended a conference of this group in Chicago, 1919. At that time, the group split into 2 distinct organizations. The Petitioner then became a member of the Communist Labor Party of America, which was headquartered in Oakland, California. The Petitioner was an active participant in the group’s activities and claims she did not intend for the group to be used as an instrument of terrorism. Regardless, she was convicted of criminal syndicalism under California statute.

    Issue. Does the Respondent, the state of California’s (Respondent) Syndicalism Act (the Act) violate the First Amendment rights of its citizens?

    Held. No. The Act is not unreasonable or arbitrary exercise of police power. The state was legitimately trying to protect the citizens from becoming victims of a criminal conspiracy. Being a member of an organization that advocates, teaches and aids terrorism in the name of political change is expressive conduct that poses a significant danger to the public safety and welfare warranting governmental restraint.
    Concurrence. No danger from speech can be deemed clear and present unless the harm will occur before there is opportunity to discuss the speech. Speech should only be restricted in the very limited instances of dire emergency.

    Discussion. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) provides complete deference to the legislative intent of such statutes and assumes a legitimate purpose. Each person has the right to free speech, but this is not an absolute right. The state may limit speech that endangers the organization of the government and disturbs the public welfare.

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