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Debs v. United States

United States Supreme Court
249 U.S. 211 (1919)


Facts

The Espionage Act of 1917 (EA) made it a crime to “convey information with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the United States or to promote the success of its enemies.” The EA had the effect of constraining sedition and political speech during World War I. In 1918, Eugene Debs (defendant), leader of the Socialist Party of America, gave a speech protesting the United States’ involvement in World War I. He was indicted in federal district court on the grounds that his speech caused and incited disloyalty, mutiny, and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces of the United States. Additionally, Debs was alleged to have obstructed and attempted to obstruct the draft and recruitment of persons into the military. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to prison. Debs challenged his conviction on the grounds that the EA violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Holmes, J.)

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  • A “yes” or “no” answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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