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Schenck V. United States

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Legal Brief
10/24/11

Citation: Charles T. Schenck v. United States, Supreme Court of the United States, 1919
Issue: Whether distributing anti-conscription literature during war time is protected under the First Amendment.
Relief Sought: Schenck did not want to be convicted of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 so he appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Facts: Charles Schenck was the general secretary of the Socialist Party of America. Socialists believed that the war had been caused by and would benefit only the rich, while causing suffering and death for the thousands of poor and working-class soldiers who would do the actual fighting in Europe. Party officials not only opposed the war, they urged American workers to oppose the war as well.
Schenck participated in many antiwar activities in violation of the Espionage Act, including mailed letters to draftees that suggested that the draft was a bad idea that was motivated by the capitalist system. The letters urged "Do not submit to intimidation" but advised only peaceful action such as petitioning to repeal the Conscription Act.
He was arrested and charged with “causing and attempting to cause insubordination in the military and naval forces of the United States” and with disturbing the draft.
Holding of the Court: Schenck’s criticism of the draft was not protected by the First Amendment, because it created a danger to the enlistment and recruiting practices of the U.S. armed forces during a state of war.
Reasoning: Schenck thought the the Espionage Act was unconstitutional and that the Socialist party were persecuted for opposing what they felt was an “immoral war.” The 1st Amendment was specifically included in the Constitution to protect political speech, and to prevent a tyranny The 1st Amendment protections would be meaningless if Congress could choose where and when citizen'
The United States believed that a nation at war is justified in taking steps to in order to defend itself. The case involved a congressional draft policy, not the 1st Amendment. The actions and words of the Socialist party were a danger to the nation. The Espionage and Sedition acts, by contrast, were legitimate and appropriate in a time of war.
Holmes, speaking for a unanimous Court, concluded that Schenck is not protected is not protected by the first amendment in this situation. The character of every act depends on the circumstances. During wartime, utterances tolerable in peacetime can be punished.
Dissenting Opinions: No dissenting opinion
Legal Term: Espionage- the act or practice of spying. capitalist system- an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.
Implications: The Schenck case stands as the first significant investigation of the limits of 1st Amendment free speech provisions by the Supreme Court. Its clarifications on the meaning of free speech have been modified, rewritten, and extended over the years. Flowing directly from this case, two schools of legal thought on the protections of the Bill of Rights emerged. One group felt that the Constitution meant to tolerate no interference by government with the people's freedoms absolutely none.

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