YATES v. UNITED STATES
Fourteen leaders of the Communist Party in the state of California were tried and convicted under the Smith Act. That Act prohibited willfully and knowingly conspiring to teach and advocate the overthrow of the government by force. This case was decided in conjunction with Richmond v. United States and Schneiderman v. United States.
Did the Smith Act violate the First Amendment?
Legal provision: Smith, Subversive Activities Control, Communist Control, or other similar federal legislation except the Internal Security Act (qv.)
In a 6-to-1 decision, the Court reversed the convictions and remanded the cases to a District Court for retrial. The Court interpreted the Smith Act in the following manner: First, the term "organize" was construed to mean the creation of a new organization, making the Act inapplicable to subsequent organizational acts. Second, the Court drew a distinction between the "advocacy and teaching of forcible overthrow as an abstract principle" and the "advocacy and teaching of concrete action for the forcible overthrow of the Government." The Court recognized that instances of speech that amounted to "advocacy of action" were "few and far between."