Smith Act
Overview
 
The Alien Registration Act or Smith Act of 1940 is a United States federal statute that set criminal penalties for advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government and required all non-citizen
Citizenship
Citizenship is the state of being a citizen of a particular social, political, national, or human resource community. Citizenship status, under social contract theory, carries with it both rights and responsibilities...

 adult residents to register with the government.

The Act is best known for its use against political organizations and figures, with approximately 215 Americans indicted under terms of the legislation, including alleged communists
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

, Trotskyists
Trotskyism
Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky considered himself an orthodox Marxist and Bolshevik-Leninist, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party of the working-class...

, and fascists
Fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

.
Encyclopedia
The Alien Registration Act or Smith Act of 1940 is a United States federal statute that set criminal penalties for advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government and required all non-citizen
Citizenship
Citizenship is the state of being a citizen of a particular social, political, national, or human resource community. Citizenship status, under social contract theory, carries with it both rights and responsibilities...

 adult residents to register with the government.

The Act is best known for its use against political organizations and figures, with approximately 215 Americans indicted under terms of the legislation, including alleged communists
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

, Trotskyists
Trotskyism
Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky considered himself an orthodox Marxist and Bolshevik-Leninist, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party of the working-class...

, and fascists
Fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

. Prosecutions continued under the Smith Act until a series of United States Supreme Court decisions in 1957 reversed a number of convictions so obtained as unconstitutional
Constitutionality
Constitutionality is the condition of acting in accordance with an applicable constitution. Acts that are not in accordance with the rules laid down in the constitution are deemed to be ultra vires.-See also:*ultra vires*Company law*Constitutional law...

. The statute has not been repealed.

Establishment

The Act was proposed by Congressman Howard W. Smith
Howard W. Smith
Howard Worth Smith , Democratic U.S. Representative from Virginia, was a leader of the conservative coalition who supported both racial segregation and women's rights.-Early life and education:...

 of Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

, a Democrat and a leader of the "anti-labor" bloc of congressmen. The bill was signed into law by President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

. Within four months, 4,741,971 aliens had registered.

The Act set federal criminal penalties that included fines or imprisonment for as long as twenty years and denied all employment by the federal government for five years following a conviction for anyone who:


"...with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or...organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof.


The first trial, in 1941 was targeted on Trotskyists
Trotskyism
Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky considered himself an orthodox Marxist and Bolshevik-Leninist, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party of the working-class...

, primarily those in the Socialist Workers Party
Socialist Workers Party (United States)
The Socialist Workers Party is a far-left political organization in the United States. The group places a priority on "solidarity work" to aid strikes and is strongly supportive of Cuba...

 (SWP). The second, held in 1944, singled out 30 alleged fascists. Beginning in 1949, leaders and members of the Communist Party USA
Communist Party USA
The Communist Party USA is a Marxist political party in the United States, established in 1919. It has a long, complex history that is closely related to the histories of similar communist parties worldwide and the U.S. labor movement....

 (CPUSA) were targeted. In addition to the 30 alleged fascists prosecuted in 1944, a total of more than 185 leaders of the SWP and CPUSA were indicted under the Smith Act between 1941 and 1956.

Minneapolis 1941

In Minneapolis in 1941, leaders of the Trotskyist SWP and activists with Local 544 of the Teamsters union there.

SWP defendants included James P. Cannon
James P. Cannon
James Patrick "Jim" Cannon was an American Trotskyist and a leader of the Socialist Workers Party.Born on February 11, 1890 in Rosedale, Kansas, he joined the Socialist Party of America in 1908 and the Industrial Workers of the World in 1911...

, Carl Skoglund
Carl Skoglund
Carl Skoglund was a Swedish-American socialist, affectionately called Skogie by all his American friends and comrades. He was born in Dalsland and went to the United States in 1911. After spending some time in the I.W.W...

, Farrell Dobbs
Farrell Dobbs
Farrell Dobbs was an American Trotskyist and trade unionist.He was born in Queen City, Missouri where his father was a worker in a coal mine. They moved to Minneapolis, and he graduated from North High School in 1925. In 1926, he left for North Dakota to find work, but returned the following fall...

, Grace Carlson
Grace Carlson
Grace Holmes Carlson was an American communist politician. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Carlson was raised in local Catholic schools. As a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party she was imprisoned in 1941 under the Smith Act together with many other SWP leaders for opposing the US...

, Harry DeBoer
Harry DeBoer
Harry DeBoer was an American labor militant and Trotskyist. He was born in Crookston, Minnesota, and worked in the Minneapolis coal yards. DeBoer became one of the leaders of the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934a particularly well-organized action that resulted in the shutting down of most...

, Max Geldman, Albert Goldman
Albert Goldman (politician)
Albert Goldman was an American Trotskyist and lawyer to the labor movement.Born Albert Verblen in Chicago, he studied at Medhill High School and then the University of Cincinnati. He also studied to be a rabbi at the Hebrew Union College...

 and twelve other party leaders. Goldman also acted as the defendants' lawyer during the trial. The SWP had been influential there since the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934
Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934
The Minneapolis General Strike of 1934 grew out of a strike by Teamsters against most of the trucking companies operating in Minneapolis, a major distribution center for the Upper Midwest. The strike began on May 16, 1934 in the Market District and ensuing violence lasted periodically throughout...

. The SWP had advocated strike
Strike action
Strike action, also called labour strike, on strike, greve , or simply strike, is a work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work. A strike usually takes place in response to employee grievances. Strikes became important during the industrial revolution, when mass labour became...

s and the continuation of labor union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

 militancy during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 under its Proletarian Military Policy
Proletarian Military Policy
The Proletarian Military Policy was a policy adopted by the Fourth International in response to World War II. It was an attempt to apply transitional demands such as trade union control of military training and the election of officers to transform what it characterised as an imperialist war into...

, while the US Communist Party had become an advocate of a no-strike pledge since the Nazi invasion of the USSR
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

. An SWP member edited the Northwest Organizer, the weekly newspaper of the Minneapolis Teamsters, and the local remained militant even as the national union under IBT leader Daniel J. Tobin
Daniel J. Tobin
Daniel Joseph Tobin was an American labor leader and president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters from 1907 to 1952. From 1917 to 1928, he was secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor...

 grew more conservative.

On June 27, 1941, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Bureau of Investigation
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agency of the United States Department of Justice that serves as both a federal criminal investigative body and an internal intelligence agency . The FBI has investigative jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crime...

 (FBI) raided the SWP's offices in Minneapolis and St. Paul and seized large quantities of communist literature. Several weeks later, a federal grand jury
Grand jury
A grand jury is a type of jury that determines whether a criminal indictment will issue. Currently, only the United States retains grand juries, although some other common law jurisdictions formerly employed them, and most other jurisdictions employ some other type of preliminary hearing...

 indicted twenty-eight people, either members of the SWP or Local 544, or both, and charged them with violating the 1861 Sedition Act, which had never before been used, and the Smith Act. The defendants were accused of plotting to overthrow the United States government. The trial began in Federal District Court in Minneapolis on October 27, 1941.

The prosecution relied principally on public statements made by the SWP and its leaders as well as the Communist Manifesto and writings by Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and communist politician who led the October Revolution of 1917. As leader of the Bolsheviks, he headed the Soviet state during its initial years , as it fought to establish control of Russia in the Russian Civil War and worked to create a...

 and Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky , born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army....

. The evidence regarding insubordination of the armed forces consisted of oral testimony by two government witnesses to the effect that one or two defendants had told them that soldiers should be induced to "kick" (complain) about food and living conditions.

Five of the defendants were acquitted on both counts by direction of the judge due to lack of evidence at the conclusion of the prosecution's case. After 56 hours of deliberation, the jury found the twenty-three remaining defendants not guilty of count one of the indictment in which the state charged the accused with violating the 1861 statute by conspiring to overthrow the government by force. The jury found eighteen of the defendants guilty of count two of the indictment, which charged violation of the Smith Act by distributing written material designed to cause insubordination in the armed forces and charged that they had acted to "advocate, abet, advise and teach the duty, necessity, desirability and propriety of overthrowing the government by force and violence."

On December 8, 1941, twelve defendants received 16-month sentences and the remaining eleven received 12-months. After unsuccessful appeals and the refusal of the United States Supreme Court to review the case, those convicted began to serve their sentences on December 31, 1943. The last prisoners were released in February 1945.

The Communist Party supported the trial and conviction of Trotskyists under the Smith Act. Attorney General Francis Biddle
Francis Biddle
Francis Beverley Biddle was an American lawyer and judge who was Attorney General of the United States during World War II and who served as the primary American judge during the postwar Nuremberg trials....

 later regretted having authorized the prosecution.

Great Sedition Trial of 1944

The so-called Great Sedition Trial of 1944 followed from a series of indictments issued in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 against a group of some 30 prominent individuals accused of sedition
Sedition
In law, sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority to tend toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent to lawful authority. Sedition may include any...

 and various related violations of the Smith Act. The defendants were alleged to be part of an international Nazi
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 conspiracy
Conspiracy (political)
In a political sense, conspiracy refers to a group of persons united in the goal of usurping or overthrowing an established political power. Typically, the final goal is to gain power through a revolutionary coup d'état or through assassination....

, connected with the activities of the Mothers' Movement
Mothers' Movement
Mothers' Movement was an American confederation of anti-World War II, anti-Roosevelt, far right groups. Mothers' Movement consisted of: National Legion of Mothers of America formed by Father Charles Coughlin in 1939; National Blue Star Mothers; Crusading Mothers of America; We, the Mothers; and We,...

. The trial arose out of the strongly isolationist and/or allegedly pro-fascist stance of the heterogeneous group of defendants at the height of US involvement in World War II. The New York Evening Enquirer
New York Enquirer
The New York Enquirer has been the name of two unrelated newspapers published in New York City.-19th century New York Enquirer:The New York Enquirer was founded in 1826 by Mordecai Noah. According to the masthead, it was "published every Tuesday and Friday at No. 1 Williams St., New York, New York"...

(later the National Enquirer) and its publisher were also initially charged in 1942 but charges were later dropped.

The trial began April 17, 1944, after a number of attempts by Federal authorities to frame charges robust enough to survive grand jury hearings, but was characterised by an inability on the part of prosecutors to prove specific intent to overthrow the government. Rather, it appears to have consisted of months of the prosecutor, O. John Rogge, reading the writings of the defendants to an increasingly weary jury. A mistrial was declared on November 29, 1944, some time after the death of the trial judge, ex-congressman Edward C. Eicher
Edward C. Eicher
Edward C. Eicher was a three-term congressman, federal securities regulator, and federal district court judge during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was considered a consummate "New Deal" liberal....

.

In part because of the abject failure of the trial, which ended "in tragedy and farce," it is notable as one of a number in the US in which the dictates of freedom — especially of certain interpretations of freedom of speech
Freedom of speech
Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used...

 — have been set against concepts of national security
National security
National security is the requirement to maintain the survival of the state through the use of economic, diplomacy, power projection and political power. The concept developed mostly in the United States of America after World War II...

. The most obvious comparison, from the immediate post-war era, was that of the congressional hearings arising out of Joseph McCarthy
Joseph McCarthy
Joseph Raymond "Joe" McCarthy was an American politician who served as a Republican U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957...

's anti-communist
Anti-communism
Anti-communism is opposition to communism. Organized anti-communism developed in reaction to the rise of communism, especially after the 1917 October Revolution in Russia and the beginning of the Cold War in 1947.-Objections to communist theory:...

 allegations.

Among the defendants in the 1944 trial were: George Sylvester Viereck
George Sylvester Viereck
George Sylvester Viereck was a German-American poet, writer, and propagandist.-Biography:...

, Lawrence Dennis
Lawrence Dennis
Lawrence Dennis was an mixed raced American diplomat, consultant and author. He advocated Socialist fascism in America after the Great Depression, arguing that capitalism was doomed.-Life:...

, Elizabeth Dilling
Elizabeth Dilling
Elizabeth Dilling Stokes was an American anti-communist and later antisemitic social activist, as well as an anti-war campaigner and writer in the 1930s and '40s. She stood trial for sedition in what is now called the Great Sedition Trial of 1944.The author of four political books, Dilling...

, William Dudley Pelley
William Dudley Pelley
William Dudley Pelley was an American extremist and spiritualist who founded the Silver Legion in 1933, and ran for President in 1936 for the Christian Party.-Family:...

, Joe McWilliams
Joe McWilliams
Joseph Elsberry "Joe" McWilliams was born to a poor pioneer family in the small town of Hitchcock, Oklahoma.In his earlier days McWilliams was well known for using an American-flag-draped covered Conestoga wagon for publicizing his rallies and speeches, as well as for drawing attention to his cause...

, Robert Edward Edmondson
Robert Edward Edmondson
Robert Edward Edmondson was an anti-Jewish pamphleteer and a defendant in the Great Sedition Trial of 1944. He was an organizer of the Pan-Aryan Conference. Edmondson had roots that went back to the colonial days of Virginia and Maryland and was primarily of Scottish descent...

, Gerald Winrod, William Griffin, Prescott Freese Dennett
Prescott Freese Dennett
Prescott Freese Dennett was one of 30 people indicted in 1942 in the Great Sedition Trial for sympathizing with the Axis powers, in his case Nazi Germany. The case resulted in mistrial on Dec. 7, 1944...

, and even in absentia notorious antisemitic publisher and propagandist Ulrich Fleischhauer
Ulrich Fleischhauer
thumb|Ulrich Fleischhauer Ulrich Fleischhauer was a leading antisemitic publisher of books and news articles reporting on an alleged Judeo-Masonic conspiracy theory and supposed "nefarious plots" by clandestine Jewish interests to dominate the world.His career was at first grounded in the Imperial...

 and his Welt-Dienst/World Service.

Communist Party trials

Members of the Communist Party USA
Communist Party USA
The Communist Party USA is a Marxist political party in the United States, established in 1919. It has a long, complex history that is closely related to the histories of similar communist parties worldwide and the U.S. labor movement....

 (CPUSA) began facing prosecution beginning in 1949 under the law. Over 140 leaders of the CPUSA, including party leader Eugene Dennis
Eugene Dennis
Francis Xavier Waldron , best known by the pseudonym Eugene Dennis was an American communist politician and union organizer, best remembered as the long-time leader of the Communist Party USA and as named party in Dennis v...

, would stand trial during the early days of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

. Prosecutions continued until a string of decisions by the United States Supreme Court threw out numerous convictions under the Smith Act as unconstitutional
Constitutionality
Constitutionality is the condition of acting in accordance with an applicable constitution. Acts that are not in accordance with the rules laid down in the constitution are deemed to be ultra vires.-See also:*ultra vires*Company law*Constitutional law...

.

Eleven leaders of the Communist Party were charged under the Smith Act in 1940, including Gil Green
Gil Green (politician)
Gil Green was a leading figure in the Communist Party of the United States of America until 1991. He is best remembered as the leader of the party's youth section, the Young Communist League, during the tumultuous decade of the 1930s....

, a long-time party leader; Eugene Dennis and Henry Winston
Henry Winston
Henry M. Winston was an African American political leader and Marxist civil rights activist.Winston, committed to equal rights and communism, was an advocate of civil rights for African Americans decades before the idea of racial equality emerged as a mainstream current of American political...

, leaders of the national organization; John Gates
John Gates
John "Johnny" Gates, born Solomon Regenstreif was a prominent American Communist journalist, best remembered as one of the individuals spearheading a failed attempt at liberalization of the Communist Party USA in 1957.-Early years:...

, editor of the Daily Worker
Daily Worker
The Daily Worker was a newspaper published in New York City by the Communist Party USA, a formerly Comintern-affiliated organization. Publication began in 1924. While it generally reflected the prevailing views of the party, some attempts were made to make it appear that the paper reflected a...

; and Gus Hall
Gus Hall
Gus Hall, born Arvo Kustaa Hallberg , was a leader and Chairman of the Communist Party USA and its four-time U.S. presidential candidate. As a labor leader, Hall was closely associated with the so-called "Little Steel" Strike of 1937, an effort to unionize the nation's smaller, regional steel...

, leader of the party in Ohio. The accusation was that "they conspired... to organize as the Communist Party and willfully to advocate and teach the principles of Marxism-Leninism," which was equated with meaning "overthrowing and destroying the government of the United States by force and violence" at some unspecified future time. They were also accused of conspiring to "publish and circulate...books, articles, magazines, and newspapers advocating the principles of Marxism-Leninism." The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels
Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels was a German industrialist, social scientist, author, political theorist, philosopher, and father of Marxist theory, alongside Karl Marx. In 1845 he published The Condition of the Working Class in England, based on personal observations and research...

, Lenin's State and Revolution, and Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

's Foundation of Leninism were introduced as evidence for the prosecution.

After a ten-month trial at the Foley Square Courthouse in Manhattan
Manhattan
Manhattan is the oldest and the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City. Located primarily on the island of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River, the boundaries of the borough are identical to those of New York County, an original county of the state of New York...

, ten defendants received sentences of five years and $10,000 fines. An eleventh defendant, Robert G. Thompson
Robert G. Thompson
Robert George Thompson was born on June 21, 1915 in Grants Pass, Oregon, Thompson fought on the side of the Spanish Republicans in the Civil War in Spain, attaining the rank of battalion commander with the all-American volunteer Abraham Lincoln Brigade.Following the Spanish Civil War Thompson saw...

a distinguished hero of the Second World Warwas sentenced to three years in consideration of his wartime service. All the defense attorneys, including future Congressman George W. Crockett
George W. Crockett
George William Crockett Jr. was an African American attorney, jurist, and congressman from the U.S. state of Michigan. He also served as a national vice-president of the National Lawyers Guild and co-founded what is believed to be the first racially-integrated law firm in the United States...

, were cited for contempt of court
Contempt of court
Contempt of court is a court order which, in the context of a court trial or hearing, declares a person or organization to have disobeyed or been disrespectful of the court's authority...

 and given prison sentences.

The convicted Communists appealed the verdicts, but the Supreme Court upheld their convictions in 1951 in Dennis v. United States
Dennis v. United States
Dennis v. United States, , was a United States Supreme Court case involving Eugene Dennis, general secretary of the Communist Party USA, which found that Dennis did not have a right under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States to exercise free speech, publication and assembly,...

by a vote of 6-2, with Justices Hugo Black
Hugo Black
Hugo Lafayette Black was an American politician and jurist. A member of the Democratic Party, Black represented Alabama in the United States Senate from 1927 to 1937, and served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1937 to 1971. Black was nominated to the Supreme...

 and William O. Douglas
William O. Douglas
William Orville Douglas was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. With a term lasting 36 years and 209 days, he is the longest-serving justice in the history of the Supreme Court...

 dissenting. Black wrote that the government's indictment was "a virulent form of prior censorship of speech and press" and a violation of the First Amendment
First Amendment to the United States Constitution
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering...

.

In 1951, twenty-three other party leaders were indicted, including Claudia Jones
Claudia Jones
Claudia Cumberbatch Jones was a Trinidadian journalist, who applied her skills to becoming a political activist and black nationalist through Communisum....

 and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a labor leader, activist, and feminist who played a leading role in the Industrial Workers of the World . Flynn was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a visible proponent of women's rights, birth control, and women's suffrage...

, a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union
American Civil Liberties Union
The American Civil Liberties Union is a U.S. non-profit organization whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." It works through litigation, legislation, and...

. By 1957, over 140 leaders and members of the Communist Party had been charged.

The end of prosecutions

The indictments and trials ended in 1957 as the result of a series of Supreme Court decisions. Yates v. United States
Yates v. United States
Yates v. United States, 354 U.S. 298 , was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States involving free speech and congressional power...

ruled unconstitutional
Constitutionality
Constitutionality is the condition of acting in accordance with an applicable constitution. Acts that are not in accordance with the rules laid down in the constitution are deemed to be ultra vires.-See also:*ultra vires*Company law*Constitutional law...

 the convictions of numerous party leaders in a ruling that distinguished between advocacy of an idea for incitement and the teaching of an idea as a concept. The Court ruled 6-1 in Watkins v. United States
Watkins v. United States
Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178 , was a case brought to the Supreme Court of the United States after John Watkins was convicted under , for failing to answer questions while posed as a witness relating to people he may have known to be communist...

that defendants could use the First Amendment
First Amendment to the United States Constitution
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering...

 as a defense against "abuses of the legislative process."

On June 5, 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld by 5-4 the conviction of Junius Scales
Junius Scales
Junius Scales was an American leader of the Communist Party of the United States of America notable for his arrest and trials under the Smith Act in the 1950s. He was arrested in Memphis, Tennessee in 1954 after going underground, he was tried under the Smith Act and convicted twice, undergoing a...

 under the "membership clause" of the Smith Act. Scales began serving a six-year sentence on October 2, 1961. He was released after serving fifteen months when President John F. Kennedy commuted his sentence in 1962.

Further reading

  • Dalton Trumbo, The Devil in the Book. Los Angeles, CA: California Emergency Defense Committee, 1956.

External links


See also

  • Sedition
    Sedition
    In law, sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority to tend toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent to lawful authority. Sedition may include any...

  • Cold war
    Cold War
    The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

  • Hatch Act of 1939
    Hatch Act of 1939
    The Hatch Act of 1939 is a United States federal law whose main provision is to prohibit federal employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except the President and the Vice President, from engaging in partisan political activity...

  • McCarthyism
    McCarthyism
    McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. The term has its origins in the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s and characterized by...

  • Second Red Scare
  • Robert Klonsky
    Robert Klonsky
    Robert Klonsky was a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which fought on the side of the Spanish Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, a prelude to World War II.-Biography:...

  • Communist registration act
    Communist registration act
    Communist registration acts were laws proposed and often enacted by the United States Congress and many American state legislatures during the Second Red Scare. These laws required members, sympathizers, and affiliated organizations of the Communist Party of the United States to register with the...

    s
  • Gitlow v. New York
    Gitlow v. New York
    Gitlow v. New York, , was a decision by the United States Supreme Court, which ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution had extended the reach of certain provisions of the First Amendment—specifically the provisions protecting freedom of speech and freedom of the...

    —Supreme Court decision that state law can prohibit advocating violent overthrow of the U.S. government.
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