Schenck v. United States

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Schenck v. United States
Syllabus
Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919), was a United States Supreme Court decision concerning the question of whether the defendant possessed a First Amendment right to free speech against the draft during World War I. The defendant, Charles Schenck, a Socialist, circulated a flyer to recently drafted men. The flyer, which cited the Thirteenth Amendment's provision against "involuntary servitude," exhorted the men to "assert [their] opposition to the draft," which it described as a moral wrong driven by the capitalist system. The circulars proposed peaceful resistance, such as petitioning to repeal the Conscription Act.Excerpted from Schenck v. United States on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


Court Documents
Opinion of the Court
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

249 U.S. 47

Schenck v. United States

ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Argued: January 9, 10, 1919 --- Decided: March 3, 1919

Evidence held sufficient to connect the defendants with the mailing of printed circulars in pursuance of a conspiracy to obstruct the recruiting and enlistment service, contrary to the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917. P 49. [p48]

Incriminating document seized under a search warrant directed against a Socialist headquarters, held admissible in evidence, consistently with the Fourth and Fifth Amendment, in a criminal prosecution against the general secretary of a Socialist party, who had charge of the office. P. 50.

Words which, ordinarily and in many places, would be within the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment may become subject to prohibition when of such a nature and used in such circumstances a to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils which Congress has a right to prevent. The character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done. P. 51.

A conspiracy to circulate among men called and accepted for military service under the Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917, a circular tending to influence them to obstruct the draft, with the intent to effect that result, and followed by the sending of such circulars, is within the power of Congress to punish, and is punishable under the Espionage Act, § 4, although unsuccessful. P. 52.

The word "recruiting," as used in the Espionage Act, § 3, means the gaining of fresh supplies of men for the military forces, as well by draft a otherwise. P. 52

The amendment of the Espionage Act by the Act of May 16, 1918, c. 75, 40 Stat. 553, did not affect the prosecution of offenses under the former. P. 53.

Affirmed.