Abrams v. United States
250 U.S. 616 (1919)
This was a decision of the United States Supreme Court involving the 1918 Amendment to the Espionage Act of 1917, which made it a criminal offense to urge curtailment of production of the materials necessary to the war against Germany with intent to hinder the progress of the war.
Facts of the Case:
The defendants were convicted on the basis of two leaflets they printed and threw from windows of a building. One leaflet signed "revolutionists" denounced the sending of American troops to Russia. The second leaflet, written in Yiddish, denounced the war and US efforts to impede the Russian Revolution. The defendants were charged and convicted for inciting resistance to the war effort and for urging curtailment of production of essential war material. They were sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Do the amendments to the Espionage Act or the application of those amendments in this case violate the free speech clause of the First Amendment?
No and no. The act's amendments are constitutional and the defendants' convictions are affirmed. In Clarke's majority opinion, the leaflets are an appeal to violent revolution, a call for a general strike, and an attempt to curtail production of munitions. The leaflets had a tendency to encourage war resistance and to curtail war production. Holmes and Brandeis dissented on narrow ground: the necessary intent had not been shown. These views were to become a classic libertarian pronouncement.