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

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

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.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE VINSON announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which MR. JUSTICE REED, MR. JUSTICE BURTON and MR. JUSTICE MINTON join.

Petitioners were indicted in July, 1948, for violation of the conspiracy provisions of the Smith Act, 54 Stat. 671, 18 U.S.C. (1946 ed.) § 11, during the period of April, 1945, to July, 1948. The pretrial motion to quash the indictment on the grounds, inter alia, that the statute was unconstitutional was denied, United States v. Foster, 80 F.Supp. 479, and the case was set for trial on January 17, 1949. A verdict of guilty as to all the petitioners was returned by the jury on October 14, 1949. The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions. 183 F.2d 201. We granted certiorari, 340 U.S. 863, limited to the following two questions: (1) Whether either § 2 or § 3 of the Smith

Page 341 U. S. 496

Act, inherently or as construed and applied in the instant case, violates the First Amendment and other provisions of the Bill of Rights; (2) whether either § 2 or § 3 of the Act, inherently or as construed and applied in the instant case, violates the First and Fifth Amendments because of indefiniteness.

Sections 2 and 3 of the Smith Act, 54 Stat. 671, 18 U.S.C. (1946 ed.) §§ 10, 11 (see present 18 U.S.C. § 2385), provide as follows:

"SEC. 2.(a) It shall be unlawful for any person --"

"(1) to knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, advise, or teach the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government;"

"(2) with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any government in the United States, to print, publish, edit, issue, circulate, sell, distribute, or publicly display any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence;"

"(3) to organize or help to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any government in the United States by force or violence; or to be or become a member of, or affiliate with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof."

"(b) For the purposes of this section, the term 'government in the United States' means the Government of the United States, the government of any State, Territory, or possession of the United States, the government of the District of Columbia, or the

Page 341 U. S. 497

government of any political subdivision of any of them."

"SEC. 3. It shall be unlawful for any person to attempt to commit, or to conspire to commit, any of the acts prohibited by the provisions of this title."

The indictment charged the petitioners with willfully and knowingly conspiring (1) to organize as the Communist Party of the United States of America a society, group and assembly of persons who 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 indictment further alleged that § 2 of the Smith Act proscribes these acts and that any conspiracy to take such action is a violation of § 3 of the Act.

The trial of the case extended over nine months, six of which were devoted to the taking of evidence, resulting in a record of 16,000 pages. Our limited grant of the writ of certiorari has removed from our consideration any question as to the sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury's determination that petitioners are guilty of the offense charged. Whether, on this record, petitioners did, in fact, advocate the overthrow of the Government by force and violence is not before us, and we must base any discussion of this point upon the conclusions stated in the opinion of the Court of Appeals, which treated the issue in great detail. That court held that the record in this case amply supports the necessary finding of the jury that petitioners, the leaders of the Communist Party in this country, were unwilling to work within our framework of democracy, but intended to initiate a violent revolution whenever the propitious occasion appeared. Petitioners dispute the meaning to be drawn from the evidence, contending that the Marxist-Leninist

Page 341 U. S. 498

doctrine they advocated taught that force and violence to achieve a Communist form of government in an existing democratic state would be necessary only because the ruling classes of that state would never permit the transformation to be accomplished peacefully, but would use force and violence to defeat any peaceful political and economic gain the Communists could achieve. But the Court of Appeals held that the record supports the following broad conclusions: by virtue of their control over the political apparatus of the Communist Political Association, [Footnote 1] petitioners were able to transform that organization into the Communist Party; that the policies of the Association were changed from peaceful cooperation with the United States and its economic and political structure to a policy which had existed before the United States and the Soviet Union were fighting a common enemy, namely, a policy which worked for the overthrow of the Government by force and violence; that the Communist Party is a highly disciplined organization, adept at infiltration into strategic positions, use of aliases, and double meaning language; that the Party is rigidly controlled; that Communists, unlike other political parties, tolerate no dissension from the policy laid down by the guiding forces, but that the approved program is slavishly followed by the members of the Party; that the literature of the Party and the statements and activities of its leaders, petitioners here, advocate, and the general goal of the Party was, during the period in question, to achieve a successful overthrow of the existing order by force and violence.

Page 341 U. S. 499

I

It will be helpful in clarifying the issues to treat next the contention that the trial judge improperly interpreted the statute by charging that the statute required an unlawful intent before the jury could convict. More specifically, he charged that the jury could not find the petitioners guilty under the indictment unless they found that petitioners had the intent to "overthrow . . . the Government of the United States by force and violence as speedily as circumstances would permit."

Section 2(a)(1) makes it unlawful

"to knowingly or willfully advocate, . . . or teach the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence. . . . ;"

Section 2(a)(3), "to organize or help to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow. . . ." Because of the fact that § 2(a)(2) expressly requires a specific intent to overthrow the Government, and because of the absence of precise language in the foregoing subsections, it is claimed that Congress deliberately omitted any such requirement. We do not agree. It would require a far greater indication of congressional desire that intent not be made an element of the crime than the use of the disjunctive "knowingly or willfully" in § 2(a)(1), or the omission of exact language in § 2(a)(3). The structure and purpose of the statute demand the inclusion of intent as an element of the crime. Congress was concerned with those who advocate and organize for the overthrow of the Government. Certainly those who recruit and combine for the purpose of advocating overthrow intend to bring about that overthrow. We hold that the statute requires as an essential element of the crime proof of the intent of those who are charged with its violation to overthrow the Government by force and violence. See

Page 341 U. S. 500

Williams v. United States,341 U. S. 97, 341 U. S. 101-102 (1951); Screws v. United States,325 U. S. 91, 325 U. S. 101-105 (1945); Cramer v. United States,325 U. S. 1, 325 U. S. 31 (1945).

Nor does the fact that there must be an investigation of a state of mind under this interpretation afford any basis for rejection of that meaning. A survey of Title 18 of the U.S. Code indicates that the vast majority of the crimes designated by that Title require, by express language, proof of the existence of a certain mental state, in words such as "knowingly," "maliciously," "willfully," "with the purpose of," "with intent to," or combinations or permutations of these and synonymous terms. The existence of a mens rea is the rule of, rather than the exception to, the principles of Anglo-American criminal jurisprudence. See American Communications Assn. v. Douds,339 U. S. 382, 339 U. S. 411 (1950).

It has been suggested that the presence of intent makes a difference in the law when an "act otherwise excusable or carrying minor penalties" is accompanied by such an evil intent. Yet the existence of such an intent made the killing condemned in Screws, supra, and the beating in Williams, supra, both clearly and severely punishable under state law, offenses constitutionally punishable by the Federal Government. In those cases, the Court required the Government to prove that the defendants intended to deprive the victim of a constitutional right. If that precise mental state may be an essential element of a crime, surely an intent to overthrow the Government of the United States by advocacy thereof is equally susceptible of proof. [Footnote 2]

Page 341 U. S. 501

II

The obvious purpose of the statute is to protect existing Government not from change by peaceable, lawful and constitutional means, but from change by violence, revolution and terrorism. That it is within the power of the Congress to protect the Government of the United States from armed rebellion is a proposition which requires little discussion. Whatever theoretical merit there may be to the argument that there is a "right" to rebellion against dictatorial governments is without force where the existing structure of the government provides for peaceful and orderly change. We reject any principle of governmental helplessness in the face of preparation for revolution, which principle, carried to its logical conclusion, must lead to anarchy. No one could conceive that it is not within the power of Congress to prohibit acts intended to overthrow the Government by force and violence. The question with which we are concerned here is not whether Congress has such power, but whether the means which it has employed conflict with the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.

One of the bases for the contention that the means which Congress has employed are invalid takes the form of an attack on the face of the statute on the grounds that, by its terms, it prohibits academic discussion of the merits of Marxism-Leninism, that it stifles ideas and is contrary to all concepts of a free speech and a free press. Although we do not agree that the language itself has that significance, we must bear in mind that it is the duty of the federal courts to interpret federal legislation in a manner not inconsistent with the demands of the Constitution. American Communications Assn. v. Douds,339 U. S. 382, 339 U. S. 407 (1950). We are not here confronted with cases similar to Thornhill v. Alabama,310 U. S. 88 (1940); Herndon v. Lowry,301 U. S. 242 (1937), and De Jonge v. Oregon,299 U. S. 353 (1937),

Page 341 U. S. 502

where a state court had given a meaning to a state statute which was inconsistent with the Federal Constitution. This is a federal statute which we must interpret as well as judge. Herein lies the fallacy of reliance upon the manner in which this Court has treated judgments of state courts. Where the statute as construed by the state court transgressed the First Amendment, we could not but invalidate the judgments of conviction.

The very language of the Smith Act negates the interpretation which petitioners would have us impose on that Act. It is directed at advocacy, not discussion. Thus, the trial judge properly charged the jury that they could not convict if they found that petitioners did "no more than pursue peaceful studies and discussions or teaching and advocacy in the realm of ideas." He further charged that it was not unlawful

"to conduct in an American college or university a course explaining the philosophical theories set forth in the books which have been placed in evidence."

Such a charge is in strict accord with the statutory language, and illustrates the meaning to be placed on those words. Congress did not intend to eradicate the free discussion of political theories, to destroy the traditional rights of Americans to discuss and evaluate ideas without fear of governmental sanction. Rather Congress was concerned with the very kind of activity in which the evidence showed these petitioners engaged.

III

But although the statute is not directed at the hypothetical cases which petitioners have conjured, its application in this case has resulted in convictions for the teaching and advocacy of the overthrow of the Government by force and violence, which, even though coupled with the intent to accomplish that overthrow, contains an element of speech. For this reason, we must pay special

Page 341 U. S. 503

heed to the demands of the First Amendment marking out the boundaries of speech.

We pointed out in Douds, supra, that the basis of the First Amendment is the hypothesis that speech can rebut speech, propaganda will answer propaganda, free debate of ideas will result in the wisest governmental policies. It is for this reason that this Court has recognized the inherent value of free discourse. An analysis of the leading cases in this Court which have involved direct limitations on speech, however, will demonstrate that both the majority of the Court and the dissenters in particular cases have recognized that this is not an unlimited, unqualified right, but that the societal value of speech must, on occasion, be subordinated to other values and considerations.

No important case involving free speech was decided by this Court prior to Schenck v. United States,249 U. S. 47 (1919). Indeed, the summary treatment accorded an argument based upon an individual's claim that the First Amendment protected certain utterances indicates that the Court at earlier dates placed no unique emphasis upon that right. [Footnote 3] It was not until the classic dictum of Justice Holmes in the Schenck case that speech per se received that emphasis in a majority opinion. That case involved a conviction under the Criminal Espionage Act, 40 Stat. 217. The question the Court faced was whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain the conviction. Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Holmes stated that the

"question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right

Page 341 U. S. 504

to prevent."

249 U.S. at 249 U. S. 52. But the force of even this expression is considerably weakened by the reference at the end of the opinion to Goldman v. United States,245 U. S. 474 (1918), a prosecution under the same statute. Said Justice Holmes,

"Indeed, [Goldman] might be said to dispose of the present contention if the precedent covers all media concludendi. But as the right to free speech was not referred to specially, we have thought fit to add a few words."

249 U.S. at 249 U. S. 52. The fact is inescapable, too, that the phrase bore no connotation that the danger was to be any threat to the safety of the Republic. The charge was causing and attempting to cause insubordination in the military forces and obstruct recruiting. The objectionable document denounced conscription and its most inciting sentence was, "You must do your share to maintain, support and uphold the rights of the people of this country." 249 U.S. at 249 U. S. 51. Fifteen thousand copies were printed, and some circulated. This insubstantial gesture toward insubordination in 1917 during war was held to be a clear and present danger of bringing about the evil of military insubordination.

In several later cases involving convictions under the Criminal Espionage Act, the nub of the evidence the Court held sufficient to meet the "clear and present danger" test enunciated in Schenck was as follows: Frohwerk v. United States,249 U. S. 204 (1919) -- publication of twelve newspaper articles attacking the war; Debs v. United States,249 U. S. 211 (1919) -- one speech attacking United States' participation in the war; Abrams v. United States,250 U. S. 616 (1919) -- circulation of copies of two different socialist circulars attacking the war; Schaefer v. United States,251 U. S. 466 (1920) -- publication of a German language newspaper with allegedly false articles, critical of capitalism and the war; Pierce v. United States,252 U. S. 239 (1920) -- circulation of copies of a four-page pamphlet written by a clergyman, attacking

Page 341 U. S. 505

the purposes of the war and United States' participation therein. Justice Holmes wrote the opinions for a unanimous Court in Schenck, Frohwerk and Debs. He and Justice Brandeis dissented in Abrams, Schaefer and Pierce. The basis of these dissents was that, because of the protection which the First Amendment gives to speech, the evidence in each case was insufficient to show that the defendants had created the requisite danger under Schenck. But these dissents did not mark a change of principle. The dissenters doubted only the probable effectiveness of the puny efforts toward subversion. In Abrams, they wrote,

"I do not doubt for a moment that, by the same reasoning that would justify punishing persuasion to murder, the United States constitutionally may punish speech that produces or is intended to produce a clear and imminent danger that it will bring about forthwith certain substantive evils that the United States constitutionally may seek to prevent."

250 U.S. at 250 U. S. 627. And in Schaefer the test was said to be one of "degree," 251 U.S. at 251 U. S. 482, although it is not clear whether "degree" refers to clear and present danger or evil. Perhaps both were meant.

The rule we deduce from these cases is that, where an offense is specified by a statute in nonspeech or nonpress terms, a conviction relying upon speech or press as evidence of violation may be sustained only when the speech or publication created a "clear and present danger" of attempting or accomplishing the prohibited crime, e.g., interference with enlistment. The dissents, we repeat, in emphasizing the value of speech, were addressed to the argument of the sufficiency of the evidence.

The next important case [Footnote 4] before the Court in which free speech was the crux of the conflict was Gitlow v. New York,268 U. S. 652 (1925). There, New York had

Page 341 U. S. 506

made it a crime to advocate "the necessity or propriety of overthrowing . . . organized government by force. . . ." The evidence of violation of the statute was that the defendant had published a Manifesto attacking the Government and capitalism. The convictions were sustained, Justices Holmes and Brandeis dissenting. The majority refused to apply the "clear and present danger" test to the specific utterance. Its reasoning was as follows: the "clear and present danger" test was applied to the utterance itself in Schenck because the question was merely one of sufficiency of evidence under an admittedly constitutional statute. Gitlow however, presented a different question. There a legislature had found that a certain kind of speech was, itself, harmful and unlawful. The constitutionality of such a state statute had to be adjudged by this Court just as it determined the constitutionality of any state statute, namely, whether the statute was "reasonable." Since it was entirely reasonable for a state to attempt to protect itself from violent overthrow, the statute was perforce reasonable. The only question remaining in the case became whether there was evidence to support the conviction, a question which gave the majority no difficulty. Justices Holmes and Brandeis refused to accept this approach, but insisted that, wherever speech was the evidence of the violation, it was necessary to show that the speech created the "clear and present danger" of the substantive evil which the legislature had the right to prevent. Justices Holmes and Brandeis, then, made no distinction between a federal statute which made certain acts unlawful, the evidence to support the conviction being speech, and a statute which made speech itself the crime. This approach was emphasized in Whitney v. California,274 U. S. 357 (1927), where the Court was confronted with a conviction under the California Criminal Syndicalist statute. The Court sustained the conviction, Justices Brandeis and Holmes

Page 341 U. S. 507

concurring in the result. In their concurrence they repeated that, even though the legislature had designated certain speech as criminal, this could not prevent the defendant from showing that there was no danger that the substantive evil would be brought about.

Although no case subsequent to Whitney and Gitlow has expressly overruled the majority opinions in those cases, there is little doubt that subsequent opinions have inclined toward the Holmes-Brandeis rationale. [Footnote 5] And in American Communications Assn. v. Douds, supra, we were called upon to decide the validity of § 9(h) of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947. That section required officials of unions which desired to avail themselves of the facilities of the National Labor Relations Board to take oaths that they did not belong to the Communist Party and that they did not believe in the overthrow of the Government by force and violence. We pointed out that Congress did not intend to punish belief, but rather intended to regulate the conduct of union affairs. We therefore held that any indirect sanction on speech which might arise from the oath requirement did not present a proper case for the "clear and present danger" test, for the regulation was aimed at conduct, rather than speech. In discussing the proper measure of evaluation of this kind of legislation, we suggested that the Homes-Brandeis philosophy insisted that, where

Page 341 U. S. 508

there was a direct restriction upon speech, a "clear and present danger" that the substantive evil would be caused was necessary before the statute in question could be constitutionally applied. And we stated,

"[The First] Amendment requires that one be permitted to believe what he will. It requires that one be permitted to advocate what he will unless there is a clear and present danger that a substantial public evil will result therefrom."

339 U.S. at 339 U. S. 412. But we further suggested that neither Justice Holmes nor Justice Brandeis ever envisioned that a shorthand phrase should be crystallized into a rigid rule to be applied inflexibly without regard to the circumstances of each case. Speech is not an absolute, above and beyond control by the legislature when its judgment, subject to review here, is that certain kinds of speech are so undesirable as to warrant criminal sanction. Nothing is more certain in modern society than the principle that there are no absolutes, that a name, a phrase, a standard has meaning only when associated with the considerations which gave birth to the nomenclature. See American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 U.S. at 339 U. S. 397. To those who would paralyze our Government in the face of impending threat by encasing it in a semantic straitjacket we must reply that all concepts are relative.

In this case, we are squarely presented with the application of the "clear and present danger" test, and must decide what that phrase imports. We first note that many of the cases in which this Court has reversed convictions by use of this or similar tests have been based on the fact that the interest which the State was attempting to protect was itself too insubstantial to warrant restriction of speech. In this category we may put such cases as Schneider v. State,308 U. S. 147 (1939); Cantwell v. Connecticut,310 U. S. 296 (1940); Martin v. Struthers,319 U. S. 141 (1943); West Virginia Board of Education

Page 341 U. S. 509

v. Barnette,319 U. S. 624 (1943); Thomas v. Collins,323 U. S. 516 (1945); Marsh v. Alabama,326 U. S. 501 (1946); but cf. Prince v. Massachusetts,321 U. S. 158 (1944); Cox v. New Hampshire,312 U. S. 569 (1941). Overthrow of the Government by force and violence is certainly a substantial enough interest for the Government to limit speech. Indeed, this is the ultimate value of any society, for if a society cannot protect its very structure from armed internal attack, it must follow that no subordinate value can be protected. If, then, this interest may be protected, the literal problem which is presented is what has been meant by the use of the phrase "clear and present danger" of the utterances bringing about the evil within the power of Congress to punish.

Obviously, the words cannot mean that, before the Government may act, it must wait until the putsch is about to be executed, the plans have been laid and the signal is awaited. If Government is aware that a group aiming at its overthrow is attempting to indoctrinate its members and to commit them to a course whereby they will strike when the leaders feel the circumstances permit, action by the Government is required. The argument that there is no need for Government to concern itself, for Government is strong, it possesses ample powers to put down a rebellion, it may defeat the revolution with ease needs no answer. For that is not the question. Certainly an attempt to overthrow the Government by force, even though doomed from the outset because of inadequate numbers or power of the revolutionists, is a sufficient evil for Congress to prevent. The damage which such attempts create both physically and politically to a nation makes it impossible to measure the validity in terms of the probability of success, or the immediacy of a successful attempt. In the instant case, the trial judge charged the jury that they could not convict unless they found that petitioners intended to overthrow the Government

Page 341 U. S. 510

"as speedily as circumstances would permit." This does not mean, and could not properly mean, that they would not strike until there was certainty of success. What was meant was that the revolutionists would strike when they thought the time was ripe. We must therefore reject the contention that success or probability of success is the criterion.

The situation with which Justices Holmes and Brandeis were concerned in Gitlow was a comparatively isolated event, bearing little relation in their minds to any substantial threat to the safety of the community. Such also is true of cases like Fiske v. Kansas,274 U. S. 380 (1927), and De Jonge v. Oregon,299 U. S. 353 (1937); but cf. Lazar v. Pennsylvania, 286 U.S. 532 (1932). They were not confronted with any situation comparable to the instant one -- the development of an apparatus designed and dedicated to the overthrow of the Government, in the context of world crisis after crisis.

Chief Judge Learned Hand, writing for the majority below, interpreted the phrase as follows:

"In each case, [courts] must ask whether the gravity of the 'evil,' discounted by its improbability, justifies such invasion of free speech as is necessary to avoid the danger."

183 F.2d at 212. We adopt this statement of the rule. As articulated by Chief Judge Hand, it is as succinct and inclusive as any other we might devise at this time. It takes into consideration those factors which we deem relevant, and relates their significances. More we cannot expect from words.

Likewise, we are in accord with the court below, which affirmed the trial court's finding that the requisite danger existed. The mere fact that, from the period 1945 to 1948, petitioners' activities did not result in an attempt to overthrow the Government by force and violence is, of course, no answer to the fact that there was a group that was ready to make the attempt. The formation

Page 341 U. S. 511

by petitioners of such a highly organized conspiracy, with rigidly disciplined members subject to call when the leaders, these petitioners, felt that the time had come for action, coupled with the inflammable nature of world conditions, similar uprisings in other countries, and the touch-and-go nature of our relations with countries with whom petitioners were in the very least ideologically attuned, convince us that their convictions were justified on this score. And this analysis disposes of the contention that a conspiracy to advocate, as distinguished from the advocacy itself, cannot be constitutionally restrained, because it comprises only the preparation. It is the existence of the conspiracy which creates the danger. Cf. Pinkerton v. United States,328 U. S. 640 (1946); Goldman v. United States,245 U. S. 474 (1918); United States v. Rabinowich,238 U. S. 78 (1915). If the ingredients of the reaction are present, we cannot bind the Government to wait until the catalyst is added.

IV

Although we have concluded that the finding that there was a sufficient danger to warrant the application of the statute was justified on the merits, there remains the problem of whether the trial judge's treatment of the issue was correct. He charged the jury, in relevant part, as follows:

"In further construction and interpretation of the statute, I charge you that it is not the abstract doctrine of overthrowing or destroying organized government by unlawful means which is denounced by this law, but the teaching and advocacy of action for the accomplishment of that purpose, by language reasonably and ordinarily calculated to incite persons to such action. Accordingly, you cannot find the defendants or any of them guilty of the crime charged

Page 341 U. S. 512

unless you are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that they conspired to organize a society, group and assembly of persons who teach and advocate the overthrow or destruction of the Government of the United States by force and violence and to advocate and teach the duty and necessity of overthrowing or destroying the Government of the United States by force and violence, with the intent that such teaching and advocacy be of a rule or principle of action and by language reasonably and ordinarily calculated to incite persons to such action, all with the intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of the Government of the United States by force and violence as speedily as circumstances would permit."

"* * * *"

"If you are satisfied that the evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants, or any of them, are guilty of a violation of the statute, as I have interpreted it to you, I find as matter of law that there is sufficient danger of a substantive evil that the Congress has a right to prevent to justify the application of the statute under the First Amendment of the Constitution."

"This is matter of law about which you have no concern. It is a finding on a matter of law which I deem essential to support my ruling that the case should be submitted to you to pass upon the guilt or innocence of the defendants. . . ."

It is thus clear that he reserved the question of the existence of the danger for his own determination, and the question becomes whether the issue is of such a nature that it should have been submitted to the jury.

The first paragraph of the quoted instructions calls for the jury to find the facts essential to establish the substantive crime, violation of §§ 2(a)(1) and 2(a)(3) of

Page 341 U. S. 513

the Smith Act, involved in the conspiracy charge. There can be no doubt that, if the jury found those facts against the petitioners, violation of the Act would be established. The argument that the action of the trial court is erroneous in declaring as a matter of law that such violation shows sufficient danger to justify the punishment despite the First Amendment rests on the theory that a jury must decide a question of the application of the First Amendment. We do not agree.

When facts are found that establish the violation of a statute, the protection against conviction afforded by the First Amendment is a matter of law. The doctrine that there must be a clear and present danger of a substantive evil that Congress has a right to prevent is a judicial rule to be applied as a matter of law by the courts. The guilt is established by proof of facts. Whether the First Amendment protects the activity which constitutes the violation of the statute must depend upon a judicial determination of the scope of the First Amendment applied to the circumstances of the case.

Petitioners' reliance upon Justice Brandeis' language in his concurrence in Whitney, supra, is misplaced. In that case, Justice Brandeis pointed out that the defendant could have made the existence of the requisite danger the important issue at her trial, but that she had not done so. In discussing this failure, he stated that the defendant could have had the issue determined by the court or the jury. [Footnote 6] No realistic construction of this disjunctive language

Page 341 U. S. 514

could arrive at the conclusion that he intended to state that the question was only determinable by a jury. Nor is the incidental statement of the majority in Pierce, supra, of any more persuasive effect. [Footnote 7] There, the issue of the probable effect of the publication had been submitted to the jury, and the majority was apparently addressing its remarks to the contention of the dissenters that the jury could not reasonably have returned a verdict of guilty on the evidence. [Footnote 8] Indeed, in the very case in which the phrase was born, Schenck, this Court itself examined the record to find whether the requisite danger appeared, and the issue was not submitted to a jury. And in every later case in which the Court has measured the validity of a statute by the "clear and present danger" test, that determination has been by the court, the question of the danger not being submitted to the jury.

The question in this case is whether the statute which the legislature has enacted may be constitutionally applied. In other words, the Court must examine judicially

Page 341 U. S. 515

the application of the statute to the particular situation, to ascertain if the Constitution prohibits the conviction. We hold that the statute may be applied where there is a "clear and present danger" of the substantive evil which the legislature had the right to prevent. Bearing, as it does, the marks of a "question of law," the issue is properly one for the judge to decide.

V

There remains to be discussed the question of vagueness -- whether the statute as we have interpreted it is too vague, not sufficiently advising those who would speak of the limitations upon their activity. It is urged that such vagueness contravenes the First and Fifth Amendments. This argument is particularly nonpersuasive when presented by petitioners, who, the jury found, intended to overthrow the Government as speedily as circumstances would permit. See Abrams v. United States,250 U. S. 616, 250 U. S. 627-629 (1919) (dissenting opinion); Whitney v. California,274 U. S. 357, 274 U. S. 373 (1927) (concurring opinion); Taylor v. Mississippi,319 U. S. 583, 319 U. S. 589 (1943). A claim of guilelessness ill becomes those with evil intent. Williams v. United States,341 U. S. 97, 341 U. S. 101-102 (1951); Jordan v. De George,341 U. S. 223, 341 U. S. 230-232 (1951); American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 U.S. at 339 U. S. 413; Screws v. United States,325 U. S. 91, 325 U. S. 101 (1945).

We agree that the standard as defined is not a neat, mathematical formulary. Like all verbalizations it is subject to criticism on the score of indefiniteness. But petitioners themselves contend that the verbalization "clear and present danger" is the proper standard. We see no difference, from the standpoint of vagueness, whether the standard of "clear and present danger" is one contained in haec verba within the statute, or whether it is the judicial measure of constitutional applicability. We

Page 341 U. S. 516

have shown the indeterminate standard the phrase necessarily connotes. We do not think we have rendered that standard any more indefinite by our attempt to sum up the factors which are included within its scope. We think it well serves to indicate to those who would advocate constitutionally prohibited conduct that there is a line beyond which they may not go -- a line which they, in full knowledge of what they intend and the circumstances in which their activity takes place, will well appreciate and understand. Williams, supra, at 341 U. S. 101-102; Jordan, supra, at 341 U. S. 230-232; United States v. Petrillo,332 U. S. 1, 332 U. S. 7 (1948); United States v. Wurzbach,280 U. S. 396, 280 U. S. 399 (1930); Nash v. United States,229 U. S. 373, 229 U. S. 376-377 (1913). Where there is doubt as to the intent of the defendants, the nature of their activities, or their power to bring about the evil, this Court will review the convictions with the scrupulous care demanded by our Constitution. But we are not convinced that, because there may be borderline cases at some time in the future, these convictions should be reversed because of the argument that these petitioners could not know that their activities were constitutionally proscribed by the statute.

We have not discussed many of the questions which could be extracted from the record, although they were treated in detail by the court below. Our limited grant of the writ of certiorari has withdrawn from our consideration at this date those questions, which include, inter alia, sufficiency of the evidence, composition of jury, and conduct of the trial.

We hold that §§ 2(a)(1), 2(a)(3) and 3 of the Smith Act do not inherently, or as construed or applied in the instant case, violate the First Amendment and other provisions of the Bill of Rights, or the First and Fifth Amendments because of indefiniteness. Petitioners intended to overthrow the Government of the United States as speedily as the circumstances would permit. Their conspiracy

Page 341 U. S. 517

to organize the Communist Party and to teach and advocate the overthrow of the Government of the United States by force and violence created a "clear and present danger" of an attempt to overthrow the Government by force and violence. They were properly and constitutionally convicted for violation of the Smith Act. The judgments of conviction are

Affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE CLARK took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

[Footnote 1]

Following the dissolution of the Communist International in 1943, the Communist Party of the United States dissolved and was reconstituted as the Communist Political Association. The program of this Association was one of cooperation between labor and management, and, in general, one designed to achieve national unity and peace and prosperity in the post-war period.

[Footnote 2]

We have treated this point because of the discussion accorded it by the Court of Appeals and its importance to the administration of this statute, compare Johnson v. United States,318 U. S. 189 (1943), although petitioners themselves requested a charge similar to the one given, and under Rule 30 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure would appear to be barred from raising this point on appeal. Cf. Boyd v. United States,271 U. S. 104 (1926).

[Footnote 3]

Toledo Newspaper Co. v. United States,247 U. S. 402 (1918); Fox v. Washington,236 U. S. 273 (1915); Davis v. Massachusetts,167 U. S. 43 (1897); see Gompers v. Bucks Stove & Range Co.,221 U. S. 418, 221 U. S. 439 (1911); Robertson v. Baldwin,165 U. S. 275, 165 U. S. 281 (1897).

[Footnote 4]

Cf. Gilbert v. Minnesota,254 U. S. 325 (1920).

[Footnote 5]

Contempt of court: Craig v. Harney,331 U. S. 367, 331 U. S. 373 (1947); Pennecamp v. Florida,328 U. S. 331, 328 U. S. 333-336 (1946); Bridges v. California,314 U. S. 252, 314 U. S. 260-263 (1941).

Validity of state statute: Thomas v. Collins,323 U. S. 516, 323 U. S. 530 (1945); Taylor v. Mississippi,319 U. S. 583, 319 U. S. 589-590 (1943); Thornhill v. Alabama,310 U. S. 88, 310 U. S. 104-106 (1940).

Validity of local ordinance or regulation: West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette,319 U. S. 624, 319 U. S. 639 (1943); Carlson v. California,310 U. S. 106, 310 U. S. 113 (1940).

Common law offense: Cantwell v. Connecticut,310 U. S. 296, 310 U. S. 308, 310 U. S. 311 (1940).

[Footnote 6]

"Whether, in 1919, when Miss Whitney did the things complained of, there was in California such clear and present danger of serious evil might have been made the important issue in the case. She might have required that the issue be determined either by the court or the jury. She claimed below that the statute, as applied to her, violated the Federal Constitution, but she did not claim that it was void because there was no clear and present danger of serious evil, nor did she request that the existence of these conditions of a valid measure thus restricting the rights of free speech and assembly be passed upon by the court or a jury. On the other hand, there was evidence on which the court or jury might have found that such danger existed."

(Emphasis added.) 274 U.S. at 274 U. S. 379.

[Footnote 7]

"Whether the printed words would, in fact, produce as a proximate result a material interference with the recruiting or enlistment service, or the operation or success of the forces of the United States, was a question for the jury to decide in view of all the circumstances of the time and considering the place and manner of distribution."

252 U.S. 239, 252 U. S. 250 (1920).

[Footnote 8]

A similarly worded expression is found in that part of the majority opinion sustaining the overruling of the defendants' general demurrer to the indictment. 252 U.S. at 252 U. S. 244. Since the defendants had not raised the issue of "clear and present danger" at the trial, it is clear that the Court was not faced with the question whether the trial judge erred in not determining, as a conclusive matter, the existence or nonexistence of a "clear and present danger." The only issue to which the remarks were addressed was whether the indictment sufficiently alleged the violation.

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, concurring in affirmance of the judgment.

The defendants were convicted under § 3 of the Smith Act for conspiring to violate § 2 of that Act, which makes it unlawful

"to organize or help to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any government in the United States by force or violence."

Act of June 28, 1940, § 2(a)(3), 54 Stat. 670, 671, 18 U.S.C. § 10, now 18 U.S.C. § 2385. The substance of the indictment is that the defendants between April 1, 1945, and July 20, 1948, agreed to bring about the dissolution of a body known as the Communist Political Association and to organize in its place the Communist Party of the United States; that the aim of the new party was "the overthrow and destruction of the Government of the United States by force and violence"; that the defendants were to assume leadership of the Party and to recruit members for it and that the Party was to publish books and conduct classes, teaching the duty and the necessity of forceful overthrow. The jury found all the defendants guilty. With one exception, each was sentenced to imprisonment for five years and to a fine of $10,000. The convictions were affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Second

Page 341 U. S. 518

Circuit. 183 F.2d 201. We were asked to review this affirmance on all the grounds considered by the Court of Appeals. These included not only the scope of the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution, but also serious questions regarding the legal composition of the jury and the fair conduct of the trial. We granted certiorari, strictly limited, however, to the contention that §§ 2 and 3 of the Smith Act, inherently and as applied, violated the First and Fifth Amendments. 340 U.S. 863. No attempt was made to seek an enlargement of the range of questions thus defined, and these alone are now open for our consideration. All others are foreclosed by the decision of the Court of Appeals.

As thus limited, the controversy in this Court turns essentially on the instructions given to the jury for determining guilt or innocence. 9 F.R.D. 367. The first question is whether -- wholly apart from constitutional matters -- the judge's charge properly explained to the jury what it is that the Smith Act condemns. The conclusion that he did so requires no labored argument. On the basis of the instructions, the jury found, for the purpose of our review, that the advocacy which the defendants conspired to promote was to be a rule of action, by language reasonably calculated to incite persons to such action, and was intended to cause the overthrow of the Government by force and violence as soon as circumstances permit. This brings us to the ultimate issue. In enacting a statute which makes it a crime for the defendants to conspire to do what they have been found to have conspired to do, did Congress exceed its constitutional power?

Few questions of comparable import have come before this Court in recent years. The appellants maintain that they have a right to advocate a political theory, so long, at least, as their advocacy does not create an immediate danger of obvious magnitude to the very existence of

Page 341 U. S. 519

our present scheme of society. On the other hand, the Government asserts the right to safeguard the security of the Nation by such a measure as the Smith Act. Our judgment is thus solicited on a conflict of interests of the utmost concern to the wellbeing of the country. This conflict of interests cannot be resolved by a dogmatic preference for one or the other, nor by a sonorous formula which is, in fact, only a euphemistic disguise for an unresolved conflict. If adjudication is to be a rational process, we cannot escape a candid examination of the conflicting claims with full recognition that both are supported by weighty title-deeds.

I

There come occasions in law, as elsewhere, when the familiar needs to be recalled. Our whole history proves even more decisively than the course of decisions in this Court that the United States has the powers inseparable from a sovereign nation.

"America has chosen to be, in many respects, and to many purposes, a nation, and for all these purposes, her government is complete; to all these objects, it is competent."

Chief Justice Marshall in Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 264, 19 U. S. 414. The right of a government to maintain its existence -- self-preservation -- is the most pervasive aspect of sovereignty. "Security against foreign danger," wrote Madison, "is one of the primitive objects of civil society." The Federalist, No. 41. The constitutional power to act upon this basic principle has been recognized by this Court at different periods and under diverse circumstances.

"To preserve its independence, and give security against foreign aggression and encroachment, is the highest duty of every nation, and to attain these ends nearly all other considerations are to be subordinated. It matters not in what form such aggression and encroachment come. . . . The government, possessing the powers which are to be exercised

Page 341 U. S. 520

for protection and security, is clothed with authority to determine the occasion on which the powers shall be called forth. . . ."

Chinese Exclusion Case,130 U. S. 581, 130 U. S. 606. See also De Lima v. Bidwell,182 U. S. 1; Mackenzie v. Hare,239 U. S. 299; Missouri v. Holland,252 U. S. 416; United States v. Curtiss-Wright Corp.,299 U. S. 304. The most tragic experience in our history is a poignant reminder that the Nation's continued existence may be threatened from within. To protect itself from such threats, the Federal Government

"is invested with all those inherent and implied powers which, at the time of adopting the Constitution, were generally considered to belong to every government as such, and as being essential to the exercise of its functions."

Mr. Justice Bradley, concurring in Legal Tender Cases, 12 Wall. 457, 79 U. S. 554, 79 U. S. 556, and see In re Debs,158 U. S. 564, 158 U. S. 582.

But even the all-embracing power and duty of self-preservation are not absolute. Like the war power, which is indeed an aspect of the power of self-preservation, it is subject to applicable constitutional limitations. See Hamilton v. Kentucky Distilleries Co.,251 U. S. 146, 251 U. S. 156. Our Constitution has no provision lifting restrictions upon governmental authority during periods of emergency, although the scope of a restriction may depend on the circumstances in which it is invoked.

The First Amendment is such a restriction. It exacts obedience even during periods of war; it is applicable when war clouds are not figments of the imagination no less than when they are. The First Amendment categorically demands that

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The right of a man to think what he

Page 341 U. S. 521

pleases, to write what he thinks, and to have his thoughts made available for others to hear or read has an engaging ring of universality. The Smith Act and this conviction under it no doubt restrict the exercise of free speech and assembly. Does that, without more, dispose of the matter?

Just as there are those who regard as invulnerable every measure for which the claim of national survival is invoked, there are those who find in the Constitution a wholly unfettered right of expression. Such literalness treats the words of the Constitution as though they were found on a piece of outworn parchment instead of being words that have called into being a nation with a past to be preserved for the future. The soil in which the Bill of Rights grew was not a soil of arid pedantry. The historic antecedents of the First Amendment preclude the notion that its purpose was to give unqualified immunity to every expression that touched on matters within the range of political interest. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 guaranteed free speech; yet there are records of at least three convictions for political libels obtained between 1799 and 1803. [Footnote 2/1] The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790 and the Delaware Constitution of 1792 expressly imposed liability for abuse of the right of free speech. [Footnote 2/2] Madison's own State put on its books in 1792 a statute confining the abusive exercise of the right of utterance. [Footnote 2/3] And it deserves to be noted that, in writing to John Adams' wife, Jefferson did not rest his condemnation of the Sedition Act of 1798 on his belief in

Page 341 U. S. 522

unrestrained utterance as to political matter. The First Amendment, he argued, reflected a limitation upon Federal power, leaving the right to enforce restrictions on speech to the States. [Footnote 2/4]

Page 341 U. S. 523

The language of the First Amendment is to be read not as barren words found in a dictionary but as symbols of historic experience illumined by the presuppositions of those who employed them. Not what words did Madison and Hamilton use, but what was it in their minds which they conveyed? Free speech is subject to prohibition of those abuses of expression which a civilized society may forbid. As in the case of every other provision of the Constitution that is not crystallized by the nature of its technical concepts, the fact that the First Amendment is not self-defining and self-enforcing neither impairs its usefulness nor compels its paralysis as a living instrument.

Page 341 U. S. 524

"The law is perfectly well settled," this Court said over fifty years ago,

"that the first ten amendments to the Constitution, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, were not intended to lay down any novel principles of government, but simply to embody certain guaranties and immunities which we had inherited from our English ancestors, and which had from time immemorial been subject to certain well recognized exceptions arising from the necessities of the case. In incorporating these principles into the fundamental law, there was no intention of disregarding the exceptions, which continued to be recognized as if they had been formally expressed."

Robertson v. Baldwin,165 U. S. 275, 165 U. S. 281. That this represents the authentic view of the Bill of Rights and the spirit in which it must be construed has been recognized again and again in cases that have come here within the last fifty years. See, e.g., Gompers v. United States,233 U. S. 604, 233 U. S. 610. Absolute rules would inevitably lead to absolute exceptions, and such exceptions would eventually corrode the rules. [Footnote 2/5] The demands of free speech in a democratic society, as well as the interest

Page 341 U. S. 525

in national security are better served by candid and informed weighing of the competing interests, within the confines of the judicial process, than by announcing dogmas too inflexible for the non-Euclidian problems to be solved.

But how are competing interests to be assessed? Since they are not subject to quantitative ascertainment, the issue necessarily resolves itself into asking, who is to make the adjustment? -- who is to balance the relevant factors and ascertain which interest is in the circumstances to prevail? Full responsibility for the choice cannot be given to the courts. Courts are not representative bodies. They are not designed to be a good reflex of a democratic society. Their judgment is best informed, and therefore most dependable, within narrow limits. Their essential quality is detachment, founded on independence. History teaches that the independence of the judiciary is jeopardized when courts become embroiled in the passions of the day and assume primary responsibility in choosing between competing political, economic and social pressures.

Primary responsibility for adjusting the interests which compete in the situation before us of necessity belongs to the Congress. The nature of the power to be exercised by this Court has been delineated in decisions not charged with the emotional appeal of situations such as that now before us. We are to set aside the judgment of those whose duty it is to legislate only if there is no reasonable basis for it. Sinking-Fund Cases,99 U. S. 700, 99 U. S. 718; Mugler v. Kansas,123 U. S. 623, 123 U. S. 660-661; United States v. Carolene Products Co.,304 U. S. 144. We are to determine whether a statute is sufficiently definite to meet the constitutional requirements of due process, and whether it respects the safeguards against undue concentration of authority secured by separation of power. United States v. Cohen Grocery Co.,255 U. S. 81.

Page 341 U. S. 526

We must assure fairness of procedure, allowing full scope to governmental discretion but mindful of its impact on individuals in the context of the problem involved. Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Comm. v. McGrath,341 U. S. 123. And, of course, the proceedings in a particular case before us must have the warrant of substantial proof. Beyond these powers we must not go; we must scrupulously observe the narrow limits of judicial authority even though self-restraint is alone set over us. Above all, we must remember that this Court's power of judicial review is not "an exercise of the powers of a super-legislature." Mr. Justice Brandeis and Mr. Justice Holmes, dissenting in Burns Baking Co. v. Bryan,264 U. S. 504, 264 U. S. 534.

A generation ago, this distribution of responsibility would not have been questioned. See Fox v. Washington,236 U. S. 273; Meyer v. Nebraska,262 U. S. 390; Bartels v. Iowa,262 U. S. 404; cf. New York ex rel. Bryant v. Zimmerman,278 U. S. 63. But, in recent decisions, we have made explicit what has long been implicitly recognized. In reviewing statutes which restrict freedoms protected by the First Amendment, we have emphasized the close relation which those freedoms bear to maintenance of a free society. See Kovacs v. Cooper,336 U. S. 77, 336 U. S. 89, 336 U. S. 95 (concurring). Some members of the Court -- and at times a majority -- have done more. They have suggested that our function in reviewing statutes restricting freedom of expression differs sharply from our normal duty in sitting in judgment on legislation. It has been said that such statutes

"must be justified by clear public interest, threatened not doubtfully or remotely, but by clear and present danger. The rational connection between the remedy provided and the evil to be curbed, which in other contexts might support legislation against attack on due process grounds, will not suffice."

Thomas v. Collins,323 U. S. 516, 323 U. S. 530. It has been suggested, with the casualness of a footnote, that such legislation is not

Page 341 U. S. 527

presumptively valid, see United States v. Carolene Products Co.,304 U. S. 144, 304 U. S. 152, n. 4, and it has been weightily reiterated that freedom of speech has a "preferred position" among constitutional safeguards. Kovacs v. Cooper,336 U. S. 77, 336 U. S. 88.

The precise meaning intended to be conveyed by these phrases need not now be pursued. It is enough to note that they have recurred in the Court's opinions, and their cumulative force has, not without justification, engendered belief that there is a constitutional principle, expressed by those attractive but imprecise words, prohibiting restriction upon utterance unless it creates a situation of "imminent" peril against which legislation may guard. [Footnote 2/6] It is on this body of the Court's pronouncements that the defendants' argument here is based.

In all fairness, the argument cannot be met by reinterpreting the Court's frequent use of "clear" and "present" to mean an entertainable "probability." In giving this meaning to the phrase "clear and present danger," the Court of Appeals was fastidiously confining the rhetoric of opinions to the exact scope of what was decided by them. We have greater responsibility for having given constitutional support, over repeated protests, to uncritical libertarian generalities.

Page 341 U. S. 528

Nor is the argument of the defendants adequately met by citing isolated cases. Adjustment of clash of interests which are at once subtle and fundamental is not likely to reveal entire consistency in a series of instances presenting the clash. It is not too difficult to find what one seeks in the language of decisions reporting the effort to reconcile free speech with the interests with which it conflicts. The case for the defendants requires that their conviction be tested against the entire body of our relevant decisions. Since the significance of every expression of thought derives from the circumstances evoking it, results reached, rather than language employed give the vital meaning. See Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 264, 19 U. S. 442; Wambaugh, The Study of Cases, 10.

There is an added reason why we must turn to the decisions. "Great cases," it is appropriate to remember,

"like hard cases, make bad law. For great cases are called great not by reason of their real importance in shaping the law of the future, but because of some accident of immediate overwhelming interest which appeals to the feelings and distorts the judgment. These immediate interests exercise a kind of hydraulic pressure which makes what previously was clear seem doubtful, and before which even well settled principles of law will bend."

Mr. Justice Holmes, dissenting in Northern Securities Co. v. United States,193 U. S. 197, 193 U. S. 400-401.

This is such a case. Unless we are to compromise judicial impartiality and subject these defendants to the risk of an ad hoc judgment influenced by the impregnating atmosphere of the times, the constitutionality of their conviction must be determined by principles established in cases decided in more tranquil periods. If those decisions are to be used as a guide, and not as an argument, it is important to view them as a whole, and to distrust the easy generalizations to which some of them lend themselves.

Page 341 U. S. 529

II

We have recognized and resolved conflicts between speech and competing interests in six different types of cases. [Footnote 2/7]

1. The cases involving a conflict between the interest in allowing free expression of ideas in public places and the interest in protection of the public peace and the primary uses of streets and parks, were too recently considered to be rehearsed here. Niemotko v. Maryland,340 U. S. 268, 340 U. S. 273. It suffices to recall that the result in each case was found to turn on the character of the interest with which the speech clashed, the method used to impose the restriction, and the nature and circumstances of the utterance prohibited. While the decisions recognized the importance of free speech and carefully scrutinized the justification for its regulation, they rejected the notion that vindication of the deep public interest in freedom of expression requires subordination of all conflicting values.

2. A critique of the cases testing restrictions on picketing is made more difficult by the inadequate recognition by the Court from the outset that the loyalties and responses evoked and exacted by picket lines differentiate this form of expression from other modes of communication. See Thornhill v. Alabama,310 U. S. 88. But the

Page 341 U. S. 530

crux of the decision in the Thornhill case was that a State could not constitutionally punish peaceful picketing when neither the aim of the picketing nor the manner in which it was carried out conflicted with a substantial interest. In subsequent decisions, we sustained restrictions designed to prevent recurrence of violence, Milk Wagon Drivers Union v. Meadowmoor Dairies,312 U. S. 287, or reasonably to limit the area of industrial strife, Carpenters & Joiners Union v. Ritter's Cafe,315 U. S. 722; cf. Bakery & Pastry Drivers Local v. Wohl,315 U. S. 769. We held that a State's policy against restraints of trade justified it in prohibiting picketing which violated that policy, Giboney v. Empire Storage Co.,336 U. S. 490; we sustained restrictions designed to encourage self-employed persons, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union v. Hanke,339 U. S. 470, and to prevent racial discrimination, Hughes v. Superior Court,339 U. S. 460. The Fourteenth Amendment bars a State from prohibiting picketing when there is no fair justification for the breadth of the restriction imposed. American Federation of Labor v. Swing,312 U. S. 321; Cafeteria Employees Union v. Angelos,320 U. S. 293. But it does not prevent a State from denying the means of communication that picketing affords in a fair balance between the interests of trade unionism and other interests of the community.

3. In three cases, we have considered the scope and application of the power of the Government to exclude, deport, or denaturalize aliens because of their advocacy or their beliefs. In United States ex rel. Turner v. Williams,194 U. S. 279, we held that the First Amendment did not disable Congress from directing the exclusion of an alien found in an administrative proceeding to be an anarchist. "[A]s long as human governments endure," we said, "they cannot be denied the power of self-preservation, as that question is presented here."

Page 341 U. S. 531

194 U.S. at 194 U. S. 294. In Schneiderman v. United States,320 U. S. 118, and Bridges v. Wixon,326 U. S. 135, we did not consider the extent of the power of Congress. In each case, by a closely divided Court, we interpreted a statute authorizing denaturalization or deportation to impose on the Government the strictest standards of proof.

4. History regards "freedom of the press" as indispensable for a free society and for its government. We have, therefore, invalidated discriminatory taxation against the press and prior restraints on publication of defamatory matter. Grosjean v. American Press Co.,297 U. S. 233; Near v. Minnesota,283 U. S. 697.

We have also given clear indication of the importance we attach to dissemination of ideas in reviewing the attempts of States to reconcile freedom of the press with protection of the integrity of the judicial process. In Pennekamp v. Florida,328 U. S. 331, the Court agreed that the Fourteenth Amendment barred a State from adjudging in contempt of court the publisher of critical and inaccurate comment about portions of a litigation that, for all practical purposes, were no longer pending. We likewise agreed, in a minor phase of our decision in Bridges v. California,314 U. S. 252, that even when statements in the press relate to matters still pending before a court, convictions for their publication cannot be sustained if their utterance is too trivial to be deemed a substantial threat to the impartial administration of justice.

The Court has, however, sharply divided on what constitutes a sufficient interference with the course of justice. In the first decision, Patterson v. Colorado,205 U. S. 454, the Court affirmed a judgment for contempt imposed by a State supreme court for publication of articles reflecting on the conduct of the court in cases still before it on

Page 341 U. S. 532

motions for rehearing. In the Bridges case, however, a majority held that a State court could not protect itself from the implied threat of a powerful newspaper that failure of an elected judge to impose a severe sentence would be a "serious mistake." The same case also placed beyond a State's power to punish the publication of a telegram from the president of an important union who threatened a damaging strike in the event of an adverse decision. The majority in Craig v. Harney,331 U. S. 367, 331 U. S. 376, held that the Fourteenth Amendment protected "strong," "intemperate," "unfair" criticism of the way an elected lay judge was conducting a pending civil case. None of the cases establishes that the public interest in a free press must in all instances prevail over the public interest in dispassionate adjudication. But the Bridges and Craig decisions, if they survive, tend to require a showing that interference be so imminent and so demonstrable that the power theoretically possessed by the State is largely paralyzed.

5. Our decision in American Communications Assn. v. Douds,339 U. S. 382, recognized that the exercise of political rights protected by the First Amendment was necessarily discouraged by the requirement of the Taft-Hartley Act that officers of unions employing the services of the National Labor Relations Board sign affidavits that they are not Communists. But we held that the statute was not for this reason presumptively invalid. The problem, we said, was

"one of weighing the probable effects of the statute upon the free exercise of the right of speech and assembly against the congressional determination that political strikes are evils of conduct which cause substantial harm to interstate commerce and that Communists and others identified by § 9(h) pose continuing threats to that public interest when in positions of union leadership. "

Page 341 U. S. 533

339 U.S. at 339 U. S. 400. On balance, we decided that the legislative judgment was a permissible one. [Footnote 2/8]

6. Statutes prohibiting speech because of its tendency to lead to crime present a conflict of interests which bears directly on the problem now before us. The first case in which we considered this conflict was Fox v. Washington, supra. The statute there challenged had been interpreted to prohibit publication of matter "encouraging an actual breach of law." We held that the Fourteenth Amendment did not prohibit application of the statute to an article which we concluded incited a breach of laws against indecent exposure. We said that the statute

"lays hold of encouragements that, apart from statute, if directed to a particular person's conduct, generally would make him who uttered them guilty of a misdemeanor, if not an accomplice or a principal in the crime encouraged, and deals with the publication of them to a wider and less selected audience."

236 U.S. at 236 U. S. 277-278. To be sure, the Fox case preceded the explicit absorption of the substance of the First Amendment in the Fourteenth. But subsequent decisions extended the Fox principle to free speech situations. They are so important to the problem before us that we must consider them in detail.

(a) The first important application of the principle was made in six cases arising under the Espionage Act of 1917. That Act prohibits conspiracies and attempts

Page 341 U. S. 534

to "obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service." In each of the first three cases, Mr. Justice Holmes wrote for a unanimous Court, affirming the convictions. The evidence in Schenck v. United States,249 U. S. 47, showed that the defendant had conspired to circulate among men called for the draft 15,000 copies of a circular which asserted a "right" to oppose the draft. The defendant in Frohwerk v. United States,249 U. S. 204, was shown to have conspired to publish in a newspaper twelve articles describing the sufferings of American troops and the futility of our war aims. The record was inadequate, and we said that it was therefore

"impossible to say that it might not have been found that the circulation of the paper was in quarters where a little breath would be enough to kindle a flame and that the fact was known and relied upon by those who sent the paper out."

249 U.S. at 249 U. S. 209. In Debs v. United States,249 U. S. 211, the indictment charged that the defendant had delivered a public speech expounding socialism and praising Socialists who had been convicted of abetting violation of the draft laws.

The ground of decision in each case was the same. The First Amendment

"cannot have been, and obviously was not, intended to give immunity for every possible use of language. Robertson v. Baldwin,165 U. S. 275, 165 U. S. 281."

Frohwerk v. United States, supra, at 249 U. S. 206.

"The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree."

Schenck v. United States, supra, at 249 U. S. 52. When "the words used had as their natural tendency and reasonably probable effect to obstruct the recruiting service," and "the defendant had the specific intent to do so in his mind," conviction in wartime is not prohibited by the Constitution. Debs v. United States, supra, at 249 U. S. 216.

Page 341 U. S. 535

In the three succeeding cases, Holmes and Brandeis, JJ., dissented from judgments of the Court affirming convictions. The indictment in Abrams v. United States,250 U. S. 616, was laid under an amendment to the Espionage Act which prohibited conspiracies to advocate curtailment of production of material necessary to prosecution of the war, with the intent thereby to hinder the United States in the prosecution of the war. It appeared that the defendants were anarchists who had printed circulars and distributed them in New York City. The leaflets repeated standard Marxist slogans, condemned American intervention in Russia, and called for a general strike in protest. In Schaefer v. United States,251 U. S. 466, the editors of a German language newspaper in Philadelphia were charged with obstructing the recruiting service and with willfully publishing false reports with the intent to promote the success of the enemies of the United States. The evidence showed publication of articles which accused American troops of weakness and mendacity, and in one instance misquoted or mistranslated two words of a Senator's speech. The indictment in Pierce v. United States,252 U. S. 239, charged that the defendants had attempted to cause insubordination in the armed forces and had conveyed false reports with intent to interfere with military operations. Conviction was based on circulation of a pamphlet which belittled Allied war aims and criticized conscription in strong terms.

In each case, both the majority and the dissenting opinions relied on Schenck v. United States. The Court divided on its view of the evidence. The majority held that the jury could infer the required intent and the probable effect of the articles from their content. Holmes and Brandeis, JJ., thought that only "expressions of opinion and exhortations," 250 U.S. at 250 U. S. 631, were involved, that they were "puny anonymities," 250 U.S. at 250 U. S. 629, "impotent to produce the evil against which the statute aimed," 251 U. S. 251

Page 341 U. S. 536

U.S. 493, and that, from them, the specific intent required by the statute could not reasonably be inferred. The Court agreed that an incitement to disobey the draft statute could constitutionally be punished. It disagreed over the proof required to show such an incitement.

(b) In the eyes of a majority of the Court, Gitlow v. New York,268 U. S. 652, presented a very different problem. There, the defendant had been convicted under a New York statute nearly identical with the Smith Act now before us. The evidence showed that the defendant was an official of the Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party, and that he was responsible for publication of a Left Wing Manifesto. This document repudiated "moderate Socialism," and urged the necessity of a militant "revolutionary Socialism," based on class struggle and revolutionary mass action. No evidence of the effect of the Manifesto was introduced, but the jury were instructed that they could not convict unless they found that the document advocated employing unlawful acts for the purpose of overthrowing organized government.

The conviction was affirmed. The question, the Court held, was entirely different from that involved in Schenck v. United States, where the statute prohibited acts without reference to language. Here, where

"the legislative body has determined generally, in the constitutional exercise of its discretion, that utterances of a certain kind involve such danger of substantive evil that they may be punished, the question whether any specific utterance coming within the prohibited class is likely, in and of itself, to bring about the substantive evil is not open to consideration."

268 U.S. at 268 U. S. 670. It is sufficient that the defendant's conduct falls within the statute, and that the statute is a reasonable exercise of legislative judgment.

This principle was also applied in Whitney v. California,274 U. S. 357, to sustain a conviction under a State criminal syndicalism statute. That statute made it a

Page 341 U. S. 537

felony to assist in organizing a group assembled to advocate the commission of crime, sabotage, or unlawful acts of violence as a means of effecting political or industrial change. The defendant was found to have assisted in organizing the Communist Labor Party of California, an organization found to have the specified character. It was held that the legislature was not unreasonable in believing organization of such a party

"involves such danger to the public peace and the security of the State, that these acts should be penalized in the exercise of its police power."

274 U.S. at 274 U. S. 371.

In neither of these cases did Mr. Justice Holmes and Mr. Justice Brandeis accept the reasoning of the Court. "The question,'" they said, quoting from Schenck v. United States,

"'in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that [the State] has a right to prevent.'"

268 U.S. at 268 U. S. 672-673. Since the Manifesto circulated by Gitlow "had no chance of starting a present conflagration," 268 U.S. at 268 U. S. 673, they dissented from the affirmance of his conviction. In Whitney v. California, they concurred in the result reached by the Court, but only because the record contained some evidence that organization of the Communist Labor Party might further a conspiracy to commit immediate serious crimes, and the credibility of the evidence was not put in issue by the defendant. [Footnote 2/9]

(c) Subsequent decisions have added little to the principles established in these two groups of cases. In the only case arising under the Espionage Act decided by this Court during the last war, the substantiality of the evidence was the crucial issue. The defendant in Hartzel 322 U. S. S. 538

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