Dennis v. United States
Digital History ID 4079
Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Smith Act, which declared the Communist Party a criminal conspiracy.
U.S. Supreme Court Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494 (1951)
1. As construed and applied in this case, 2 (a) (1), 2 (a) (3) and 3 of the Smith Act, 54 Stat. 671, making it a crime for any person knowingly or willfully to advocate the overthrow or destruction of the Government of the United States by force or violence, to organize or help to organize any group which does so, or to conspire to do so, do not violate the First Amendment or other provisions of the Bill of Rights and do not violate the First or Fifth Amendments because of indefiniteness.
2. Petitioners, leaders of the Communist Party in this country, were indicted in a federal district court under 3 of the Smith Act for willfully and knowingly conspiring (1) to organize as the Communist Party a group of persons to teach and advocate the overthrow and destruction of the Government of the United States by force and violence, and (2) knowingly and willfully to advocate and teach the duty and necessity of overthrowing and destroying the Government of the United States by force and violence. The trial judge instructed the jury that they could not convict unless they found that petitioners intended to overthrow the Government "as speedily as circumstances would permit" but that, if they so found, then, as a matter of law, there was sufficient danger of a substantive evil that Congress has a right to prevent to justify application of the statute under the First Amendment. Petitioners were convicted and the convictions were sustained by the Court of Appeals. This Court granted certiorari, limited to the questions: (1) Whether either 2 or 3 of the Smith Act, inherently or as construed and applied in the instant case, violates the First Amendment and other provisions of the Bill of Rights; and (2) whether either 2 or 3, inherently or as construed and applied in the instant case, violates the First and Fifth Amendments because of indefiniteness. Held: The convictions are affirmed.
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