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Schenck v. United States

249 U.S. 47 (1919)

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Schenck v. United States

United States Supreme Court

249 U.S. 47 (1919)

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Facts

Two months after the United States’ entry into World War I, Congress enacted the Espionage Act of 1917 (EA). The law made it a crime for any person, during time of war, to willfully “make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to interfere” with the military success or “to promote the success of its enemies.” The law also made it a crime to willfully “obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States.” Convictions could be punished by sentences of up to twenty years’ imprisonment and fines of up to $10,000. Schenck (defendant) was indicted by the United States Government (plaintiff) for the charge of “conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act” after he mailed literature to draftees during World War I that criticized the draft. The government alleged that Schenck conspired to violate the EA by attempting to cause insubordination in the military and to obstruct military recruitment. Schenck was convicted in federal district court, but appealed his conviction on the grounds that the Espionage Act violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Holmes, J.)

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