Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether the Espionage Act violates the First Amendment as applied to distributing leaflets calling for a strike at U.S. ammunitions plants.

Action

The Supreme Court upheld the convictions, affirming the lower court.

Facts/Syllabus

Russian immigrants protesting recent U.S. military action in Russia were convicted for two leaflets thrown from a New York City window that called for a strike at U.S. ammunitions plants. Congress had declared in the Espionage Act that such propaganda would harm the war effort, and the Supreme Court had previously upheld the Espionage Act as constitutional in Schenck v. United States (1919).

Importance of Case

The Supreme Court deferred to Congress again and upheld the convictions. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (joined by Justice Louis Brandeis) dissented, arguing the defendants did not present a “clear and present danger,” the test he had articulated in the Court’s opinion in Schenck.

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