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Yates v. United States

Citation. 354 U.S. 298, 77 S.Ct. 1064, 1 L.Ed.2d 1356 (1957).
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Citation. 354 U.S. 298, 77 S.Ct. 1064, 1 L.Ed.2d 1356 (1957).

Brief Fact Summary.

Defendants were convicted under the Smith Act and challenged its constitutionality under the First and 14th Amendments.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Those to whom the advocacy is addressed must be urged to do something, now or in the future, rather than merely to believe in something.


Defendants were convicted under the Smith Act. Each was accused of advocating to overthrow the government. On appeal, the Defendants argued that the jury instructions were fatally defective. They contended that mere advocacy, unrelated to its tendency to produce forcible action, resulted in an unconstitutional application of the Smith Act.


Whether the Smith Act violates the First and 14th Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.


No. The Smith Act does not violate the First and 14th Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.


Justice Clark

This case is no different than Dennis. I would affirm all of the convictions.


Justice Black

I would reverse every one of these convictions and direct that all the defendants be acquitted. This is because the prosecutions are based on First and 14th Amendment violations.


The Smith Act does not punish mere advocacy and teaching of forcible overthrow as abstract principles. That sort of advocacy, even though uttered with the hope that it may ultimately lead to violent revolution, is too remote from concrete action to be regarded as the kind of indoctrination preparatory to actions condemned in our previous cases. There must be some sort of intent to accomplish overthrow. As such, the District Court’s charge was not adequate.

[The Court ordered acquittal of five of the 14 Defendants, finding no adequate evidence to sustain their convictions on retrial.]

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