Gitlow v. People
268 U.S. 652 (1925)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gitlow v. People, 268 U.S. 652 (1925)

Gitlow v. People


Argued April 12, 1923

Reargued November 23, 1923

Decided June 8, 1925

268 U.S. 652


1. Assumed, for the purposes of the case, that freedom of speech and of the press are among the personal rights and liberties protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the States. P. 268 U. S. 666.

2. Freedom of speech and of the press, as secured by the Constitution, is not an absolute right to speak or publish without responsibility whatever one may choose or an immunity for every possible use of language. P. 268 U. S. 666.

3. That a State, in the exercise of its police power, may punish those who abuse this freedom by utterances inimical to the public welfare, tending to corrupt public morals, incite to crime or disturb the public peace, is not open to question. P. 268 U. S. 667.

4. For yet more imperative reasons, a State may punish utterances endangering the foundations of organized government and threatening its overthrow by unlawful means. P. 268 U. S. 667.

5. A statute punishing utterances advocating the overthrow of organized government by force, violence and unlawful means, imports a legislative determination that such utterances are so inimical to the general welfare and involve such danger of substantive evil that they may be penalized under the police power, and this determination must be given great weight, and every presumption be indulged in favor of the validity of the statute. P. 268 U. S. 668.

6. Such utterances present sufficient danger to the public peace and security of the State to bring their punishment clearly within the range of legislative discretion, even if the effect of a given utterance cannot accurately be foreseen. P. 268 U. S. 669.

7. A State cannot reasonably be required to defer taking measures against these revolutionary utterances until they lead to actual disturbances of the peace or imminent danger of the State's destruction. P. 268 U. S. 669.

8. The New York statute punishing those who advocate, advise or teach the duty; necessity or propriety of overthrowing or overturning organized government by force, violence, or any unlawful means, or who print, publish, or knowingly circulate any book,

Page 268 U. S. 653

paper, etc., advocating, advising or teaching the doctrine that organized government should be so overthrown, does not penalize the utterance or publication of abstract doctrine or academic discussion having no quality of incitement to any concrete action, but denounces the advocacy of action for accomplishing the overthrow of organized government by unlawful means, and is constitutional as applied to a printed "Manifesto" advocating and urging mass action which shall progressively foment industrial disturbances and, through political mass strikes and revolutionary mass action, overthrow and destroy organized parliamentary government; even though the advocacy was in general terms, and not addressed to particular immediate acts or to particular person. Pp. 268 U. S. 654, 268 U. S. 672.

9. The statute being constitutional, it may constitutionally be applied to every utterance not too trivial to be beneath the notice of the law -- which is of such a character and used with such intent and purpose as to bring it within the prohibition of the statute, and the question whether the specific utterance in question was likely to bring about the substantive evil aimed at by the statute is not open to consideration. Schenck v. United States,249 U. S. 47, explained. P. 268 U. S. 670.

195 App.Div. 77; 234 N.Y. 132, 539, affirmed.

ERROR to a judgment of the Supreme Court of New York, affirmed by the Appellate Division thereof and by the Court of Appeals, sentencing the plaintiff in error for the crime of criminal anarchy, (New York Laws, 1909, c. 88), of which he had been convicted by a jury.

Page 268 U. S. 654

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