Case Study: Schenck V. United States

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Schenck v. United States (1919) Facts of the Case: When America entered WWI, Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917, which said that during wartime obstructing the draft and trying to make soldiers disloyal or disobedient were crimes. Charles Schenck, who served as general secretary of the Socialist Party, was vehemently against the war. He mailed thousands of pamphlets to men who had been drafted into the armed forces. These pamphlets said that the government had no right to send American citizens to other countries to kill people. As a result, the government charged Schenck with conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act by attempting to cause insubordination in the military and to obstruct recruitment. Arguments for Schenck: The Espionage Act was unconstitutional. Schenck and the Socialist party were persecuted for opposing what they felt was an “immoral war.” The First Amendment was specifically included in the Constitution…show more content…
The Courts decision upheld Schenck's conviction, saying that it did not violate his First Amendment right to free speech. “Words could be weapons” during wartime and free speech could be limited on national security grounds. The court held that the circumstances of wartime permitted greater restrictions on free speech than would normally be permitted during peacetime. The significance of the Courts ruling is that it established the “clear and present danger test” for limiting speech during wartime. It stands as the first significant exploration of the limits of First Amendment free speech provisions by the Supreme Court. It protected the use of the draft by the federal government. The case also drew the line between protected and unprotected speech. Finally, it introduced the phrase “Shouting fire in a crowded theater,” which serves as an example of speech that is claimed to serve no conceivable useful purpose and is extremely and imminently
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