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Abrams v. United States

    Citation. 549 U.S. 1145; 127 S. Ct. 1012;166 L. Ed. 2d 763; 2007 U.S.

    Brief Fact Summary. The defendants’ convictions for distributing leaflets advocating strikes during the Russian Revolution were upheld because their speech was not protected by the United States Constitution (Constitution) based on the “clear and present danger” test.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Men must be held to have intended and to be accountable for the effects, which their acts are likely to produce.

    Facts. The Defendants, Abrams and others (Defendants) were Russian immigrants. The Defendant were self-proclaimed revolutionists and anarchists who wrote and distributed thousands of circulars advocating a general strike and appealing to workers in ammunitions factories to stop the production of weapons to be used against Russian revolutionaries. They were convicted under 1918 amendments to the Espionage Act that prohibited the curtailment of production of materials necessary to the prosecution of war against Germany with intent to hinder its prosecution.

    Issue. Whether the Defendants’ speech was protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution?

    Held. No. Men must be held to have intended and to be accountable for the effects which their acts are likely to produce. The plain purpose of Defendants’ propaganda was to excite, at the supreme crisis of war, disaffection, sedition, riots and as they hoped, revolution in this country for the purpose of embarrassing and if possible defeating the military plans of the Government in Europe. Therefore, their speech is not protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

    Dissent. In this case, sentences of twenty years have been imposed for the publishing of two leaflets that the Defendants had as much right to publish as the Government had to publish the Constitution.

    Discussion. Clear and present danger supposedly assures special attention to the time dimension. Speech may not be curtailed until there is an immediate risk of an evil. Speech with a remote tendency to cause danger may not be curtailed.


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