Whitney v. California

274 U.S. 357, 47 S. Ct. 641 (1927)



That the freedom of speech which is secured by the United States Constitution does not confer an absolute right to speak, without responsibility, whatever one may choose, or an unrestricted and unbridled license giving immunity for every possible use of language and preventing the punishment of those who abuse this freedom; and that a state in the exercise of its police power may punish those who abuse this freedom by utterances inimical to the public welfare, tending to incite to crime, disturb the public peace, or endanger the foundations of organized government and threaten its overthrow by unlawful means, is not open to question.

 Petitioner sought review of a judgment affirming her conviction under the state Criminal Syndicalism Act. The conviction was based on her involvement with the Communist Labor Party of California, including membership in the party. On appeal, petitioner claimed the Act and its application to her case violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of U.S. Const. amend. XIV. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment upholding the conviction.




Is the Syndicalism Act and its application in this case repugnant to the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment?




The court held that it had jurisdiction to review the state court's judgment where an order of the appeals court indicated that a federal question regarding the Act's constitutionality had been presented and decided. The court held that the essence of the offense was the combining with others in an association for the accomplishment of desired ends through the advocacy and use of criminal and unlawful methods and that the Act was not an unreasonable or arbitrary exercise of the police power of the state that unwarrantably infringed any right of free speech, assembly, or association. The Act, as applied, did not violate either the Due Process or Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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