Whitney v. California

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Whitney v. California

Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927), was a United States Supreme Court decision upholding the conviction of an individual who had engaged in speech that raised a threat to society. Excerpted from Whitney v. California on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Court Documents
Concurring Opinion


274 U.S. 357

Whitney v. California


No. 3 Argued: October 6, 1925 --- Decided: May 16, 1927

1. This Court acquires no jurisdiction to review the judgment of a state court of last resort on a writ of error unless it affirmatively appears on the face of the record that a federal question constituting an appropriate ground for such review was presented in and expressly or necessarily decided by such state court. P. 360.

2. Where the fact that a federal question was considered and passed upon by the state court does not appear by the record, it may be shown by a certified copy of an order of that court made after the return of the writ of error and brought here as an addition to the record. P. 361.

3. In reviewing the judgment of a state court, this Court will consider only such federal questions as are shown to have been presented to the state court and expressly or necessarily decided by it. P. 362.

4. The question whether the petitioner, who joined and assisted in the organization of a Communist Labor Party contravening the California Criminal Syndicalism Act, did so with knowledge of its unlawful character and purpose, was a mere question of the weight of the evidence, foreclosed by the verdict of guilty approved by the state court, and not a question of the constitutionality of the Act, reviewable by this Court. P. 366.

5. The California Criminal Syndicalism Act, which defines "criminal syndicalism" as

any doctrine or precept advocating, teaching [p358] or aiding and abetting the commission of crime, sabotage (which word is hereby defined as meaning willful and malicious physical damage or injury to physical property), or unlawful acts of force and violence or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing a change in industrial ownership or control, or effecting any political change,

and declares guilty of a felony any person who

organizes or assists in organizing, or is or knowingly becomes a member of, any organization, society, group or assemblage of persons organized or assembled to advocate, teach or aid and abet criminal syndicalism,

is sufficiently clear and explicit to satisfy the requirement of due process of law. P. 368.

6. The statute does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in penalizing those who advocate a resort to violent and unlawful methods as a means of changing industrial and political conditions while not penalizing those who may advocate a resort to such methods for maintaining such conditions, since the distinction is not arbitrary, but within the discretionary power of the State to direct its legislation against what it deems an evil without covering the whole field of possible abuses. P. 369.

7. Such a statute is not open to objection unless the classification on which it is based is so lacking in any adequate or reasonable basis as to preclude the assumption that it was made in the exercise of the legislative judgment and discretion. P. 369.

8. This Act is not class legislation; it affects all alike, no matter what their business associations or callings, who come within its terms and do the things prohibited. P. 370.

9. Nor is it repugnant to the Due Process Clause as a restraint of the rights of free speech, assembly, and association. P. 371.

10. The determination of the legislature that the acts defined involve such danger to the public peace and security of the State that they should be penalized in the exercise of the police power must be given great weight, and every presumption be indulged in favor of the validity of the statute, which could be declared unconstitutional only if an attempt to exercise arbitrarily and unreasonably the authority vested in the State in the public interest. P. 371.

57 Cal.App. 449; ib., 453, affirmed.

ERROR to a judgment of the District Court of Appeal of California, which affirmed a conviction of the petitioner under the state act against criminal syndicalism. The Supreme Court of California denied a petition for appeal.

On the first hearing in this Court, the writ of error was [p359] dismissed for want of jurisdiction, but later a petition for rehearing was granted. 269 U.S. 530, 538.