WHITNEY v. CALIFORNIA
Charlotte Anita Whitney, a member of the Communist Labor Party of California, was prosecuted under that state's Criminal Syndicalism Act. The Act prohibited advocating, teaching, or aiding the commission of a crime, including "terrorism as a means of accomplishing a change in industrial ownership. . .or effecting any political change."
Did the Criminal Syndicalism Act violate the First or Fourteenth Amendments?
In a unanimous decision, the Court sustained Whitney's conviction and held that the Act did not violate the Constitution. The Court found that the Act violated neither the Due Process Clause nor the Equal Protection Clause, and that freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment was not an absolute right. The Court argued "that a State. . .may punish those who abuse this freedom by utterances. . .tending to. . .endanger the foundations of organized government and threaten its overthrow by unlawful means" and was not open to question. The decision is most notable for the concurring opinion written by Justice Brandeis, in which he argued that only clear, present, and imminent threats of "serious evils" could justify suppression of speech.