DENNIS v. UNITED STATES
In 1948, the leaders of the Communist Part of America were arrested and charged with violating provisions of the Smith Act. The Act made it unlawful to knowingly conspire to teach and advocate the overthrow or destruction of the United States government. Party leaders were found guilty and lower courts upheld the conviction.
Did the Smith Act's restrictions on speech violate the First Amendment?
Legal provision: US Const Amend 1; 18 U.S.C. §§ 10, 11
In a 6-to-2 decision, the Court upheld the convictions of the Communist Party leaders and found that the Smith Act did not "inherently" violate the First Amendment. In the plurality opinion, the Court held that there was a distinction between the mere teaching of communist philosophies and active advocacy of those ideas. Such advocacy created a "clear and present danger" that threatened the government. Given the gravity of the consequences of an attempted putsch, the Court held that success or probability of success was not necessary to justify restrictions on the freedom of speech.