Schenck v. United States et al. (1919). by Tim Desmond. Table of Contents. Background on the case How it Reached the Supreme Court Constitutional Question Supreme Court Ruling. Background.
by Tim Desmond
Charles Schenck was the Secretary of the Socialist Party of America. Elizabeth Baer was the Socialist Party recording secretary. As part of what the Socialist Party did Charles was the one responsible for the material he sent to potential draftees during World War I. He printed, distributed and mailed these messages. This included about 15,000 leaflets encouraging soldiers to take a stand against the draft. Statements like “Assert your rights”, or “Do not submit to intimidation.”
Charles Schenck Elizabeth Baer were first indicted and found guilty in US Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. There were three charges: Conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act by causing and attempting to cause insubordination in the military and with obstructing the recruitment and enlistment service of the US; conspiracy to commit an illegal act against the US by using the mails to transmit prohibited material; and the unlawful use of mail.
Charles appealed to the Supreme Court (bypassing the 3rd circuit).
Was Charles Schenck’s First Amendment rights violated?
Set the precedent that the first amendment is excepted in two ways.
Writ of Certiorari
The Supreme Court reviewed the request upon appeal to them from US Federal district court and presumably at least 4 justices agreed to hear the case.
Schneck argues that by charging him on the Espionage Act his right to free speech is being infringed.
The US asserts that no 1st amendment interpretation allows hindrance of the war effort.
Majority Opinion (Unanimous)
Possible Dissenting Opinion
The unanimous decision was written by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. The ruling he gave said that, while in a time of war restrictions may be more strict. It is not against free speech to protect the safety of soldiers.
A possible dissent argument may take shape by arguing that there were no damages to any branch of the military. Schneck set out to inform draftees of a potential route for avoiding war.