Dennis v. United States
341 U.S. 494 (1951)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494 (1951)

Dennis v. United States

No. 336

Argued December 4, 1950

Decided June 4, 1951

341 U.S. 494

Syllabus

1. As construed and applied in this case, §§ 2(a)(1), 2(a)(3) and 3 of the Smith Act, 54 Stat. 671, making it a crime for any person knowingly or willfully to advocate the overthrow or destruction of the Government of the United States by force or violence, to organize or help to organize any group which does so, or to conspire to do so, do not violate the First Amendment or other provisions of the Bill of Rights and do not violate the First or Fifth Amendments because of indefiniteness. Pp. 341 U. S. 495-499, 341 U. S. 517.

2. Petitioners, leaders of the Communist Party in this country, were indicted in a federal district court under § 3 of the Smith Act for willfully and knowingly conspiring (1) to organize as the Communist Party a group of persons to teach and advocate the overthrow and destruction of the Government of the United States by force and violence, and (2) knowingly and willfully to advocate and teach the duty and necessity of overthrowing and destroying the Government of the United States by force and violence. The trial judge instructed the jury that they could not convict unless they found that petitioners intended to overthrow the Government "as speedily as circumstances would permit," but that, if they so found, then, as a matter of law, there was sufficient danger of a substantive evil that Congress has a right to prevent to justify application of the statute under the First Amendment. Petitioners were convicted, and the convictions were sustained by the Court of Appeals. This Court granted certiorari, limited to the questions: (1) Whether either § 2 or § 3 of the Smith Act, inherently or as construed and applied in the instant case, violates the First Amendment and other provisions of the Bill of Rights, and (2) whether either § 2 or § 3, inherently or as construed and applied in the instant case, violates the First and Fifth Amendments because of indefiniteness.

Held: The convictions are affirmed. Pp. 341 U. S. 495-499, 341 U. S. 511-512, 341 U. S. 517.

183 F.2d 201, affirmed.

Page 341 U. S. 495

For the opinions of the Justices constituting the majority of the Court, see:

Opinion of THE CHIEF JUSTICE, joined by MR. JUSTICE REED, MR. JUSTICE BURTON and MR. JUSTICE MINTON, p. 341 U. S. 495.

Opinion of MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, p. 341 U. S. 517.

Opinion of MR. JUSTICE JACKSON, p. 341 U. S. 561.

For the dissenting opinion of MR. JUSTICE BLACK, see p. 341 U. S. 579.

For the dissenting opinion of MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, see p. 341 U. S. 581.

The case is stated in the opinion of THE CHIEF JUSTICE, pp. 341 U. S. 495-499.

Affirmed, p. 341 U. S. 517.

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