sue asked in Arts & HumanitiesHistory · 7 years ago

How did the supreme court justify the restrictions of the Sedition Act ?

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  • Ted K
    Lv 6
    7 years ago
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    he U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Sedition Act in Abrams v. United States (1919),[27] although Oliver Wendell Holmes used his dissenting opinion to make a commentary on what has come to be known as "the marketplace of ideas". Subsequent Supreme Court decisions, such as Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), make it unlikely that similar legislation would be considered constitutional today.

    Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919), was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States upholding the 1918 Amendment to the Espionage Act of 1917, which made it a criminal offense to urge curtailment of production of the materials necessary to the war against Germany with intent to hinder the progress of the war. The 1918 Amendment is commonly referred to as if it were a separate Act, the Sedition Act of 1918.

    The defendants were convicted on the basis of two leaflets they printed and threw from windows of a building in New York City. One leaflet, signed "revolutionists", denounced the sending of American troops to Russia. The second leaflet, written in Yiddish, denounced the war and US efforts to impede the Russian Revolution. It advocated the cessation of the production of weapons to be used against Soviet Russia.

    The defendants were charged and convicted of with inciting resistance to the war effort and urging curtailment of production of essential war material. They were sentenced to 10 and 20 years in prison. The Supreme Court ruled, 7–2, that the defendants' freedom of speech, protected by the First Amendment, was not violated. Justice John Hessin Clarke in an opinion for the majority held that the defendants' intent to hinder war production could be inferred from their words, and that Congress had determined such expressions posed an imminent danger. Their conviction was accordingly warranted under the standard, derived from the common law, announced in Schenck v. United States and a companion case earlier in 1919. Opinions for a unanimous Court in those cases were written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. In the Abrams case, Holmes rejected the argument that the defendants posed the "clear and present danger" that was true of the defendants in Schenck. He accordingly dissented, in a powerful opinion joined by Justice Louis Brandeis, in which he said that the Abrams defendants lacked the specific intent to interfere with the war against Germany, and that they posed no actual risk. The majority opinion is no longer cited as a precedent. Holmes's dissent is often quoted and is taken to be authoritative.

    Writing for the majority, Justice John Hessin Clarke asserted that the leaflets demonstrated an intent to hinder production of war material, and could not be characterized as simple expressions of political opinion. Quoting English translations of a leaflet written in Yiddish, Clark concluded:

    "This is not an attempt to bring about a change of administration by candid discussion, for no matter what may have incited the outbreak on the part of the defendant anarchists, the manifest purpose of such a publication was to create an attempt to defeat the war plans of the government of the United States, by bringing upon the country the paralysis of a general strike, thereby arresting the production of all munitions and other things essential to the conduct of the war."

    In answer to claim that the defendants were concerned only with United States' intervention in Russia, he asserted that the leaflets

    "sufficiently show, that while the immediate occasion for this particular outbreak of lawlessness, on the part of the defendant alien anarchists, may have been resentment caused by our government sending troops into Russia as a strategic operation against the Germans on the eastern battle front, yet the plain purpose of their propaganda was to excite, at the supreme crisis of the war, disaffection, sedition, riots, and, as they hoped, revolution, in this country for the purpose of embarrassing and if possible defeating the military plans of the government in Europe."

    He ruled that the leaflets call for a general strike and the curtailment of munitions production, violated the Sedition Act of 1918. The leaflets did not pose an immediate risk of obstruction of the war effort, but they had a tendency in that direction, which the Congress had forbidden in the crisis of the War.

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