Brief Fact Summary.
Defendants, convicted of conspiring to violate the Espionage Act, challenged the Act.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Only the emergency that makes it immediately dangerous to leave the correction of evil counsels to time warrants prohibiting such speech.
Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical.View Full Point of Law
Defendants were convicted of conspiring to violate the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Supreme court affirmed. The Court stated that the claim that the Act conflicts with the First Amendment was sufficiently discussed and definitely negatived in Schenck v. U.S. Here, the leaflets said that the President’s cowardly silence about the intervention in Russia reveals the hypocrisy of the plutonic gang in Washington. The other leaflet distributed by the defendants said that America together with the Allies will march for Russia to help the Czecko-Slovaks in their struggle against the Bolsheviki and that this time the hypocrites shall not fool the Russian emigrants and friends of Russia in America. The defendants were imposed to twenty years of imprisonment.
Does the Espionage Act of 1917 conflict with the First Amendment and thus violates the Constitution?
Yes, the First Amendment does not protect an individual from stating words in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. Therefore, the Espionage Act that seeks to prevent a clear and present danger to the Nation does not violate the Constitution.
Persecution for the expression does seem perfectly logical. To allow opposition by speech seems to indicate that you think the speech impotent as when a man says that he has squared with the circle or that you do not care whole-heartedly for the result. But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas; that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. This is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment. Only the emergency that makes it immediately dangerous to leave the correction of evil counsels to time warrants making any exception to the sweeping command, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.”
Whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger is a question of proximity and degree. While the Government may punish individuals for making of certain types of speech, the Constitution grants the Government such authority only when the speech poses a certain and clear danger to the Nation such as in times of war. The leaflets distributed by the defendants contained abusive language targeting the President and the Nation and could arouse public anger.