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Whitney v. California

    Brief Fact Summary. A conviction under the Criminal Syndicalism Act of California (the Act) was upheld and the Act was held constitutional because a state may punish those who abuse freedom of speech by utterances inimical to the public welfare, tending to incite crime, disturb the public peace, or endanger foundations of organized government and threaten its overthrow by unlawful means.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Persons who abuse such rights [of freedom of speech, association, assembly] by joining and furthering an organization thus menacing the peace and welfare of the state are not protected by due process.

    Facts. The Defendant, Anita Whitney (Defendant), was convicted under the Act for being an active member of the Communist Labor Party (CLP).

    Issue. Whether the Act, as here construed and applied, deprived Defendant of her liberty without due process of law?

    Held. No. Judgment of the lower court affirmed. Defendant’s contention is nothing more than an effort to review the weight of the evidence for the purpose of showing that the Defendant did not join the CLP with knowledge of its unlawful character and purpose. That question is one of fact and not open to review. The Act as applied in this case is not repugnant to the Due Process Clause as a restraint on the rights of free speech, assembly, and association. Persons who abuse such rights by joining and furthering an organization thus menacing the peace and welfare of the state are not protected by due process. Therefore, the Act as here construed and applied, did not deprive Defendant of her liberty without due process of law.
    Concurrence. The Court has not yet fixed the standard by which to determine when (i) a danger shall be deemed clear; (ii) how remote the danger may be and yet be deemed present and (iii) what degree of evil shall be deemed sufficiently substantial to justify the resort to abridgment of free speech and assemble as a means of protection.

    Discussion. In this case, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) was faced with a prior legislative declaration that certain classes of speech caused an intolerable risk of harm.


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