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Dennis v.

US
341 US 494
June 4, 1951
Article 3 Section 4
FACTS:
Herein petitioners were accused in July 1948 for violation of the conspiracy provisions of
the Smith Act. The motion to quash on the ground that the statute is unconstitutional was denied,
and so the petitioners were found guilty of violation of the law. The petitioners were charged
with violation of Sections 2 and 3 of the statute: knowingly and willfully conspiring to organize
as the Communist Party of the United States of America a society, group and assembly of
persons who teach and advocate the overthrow and destruction of the Government of the United
States by force and violence; and 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. Petitioners now question the constitutionality of the statute as violative of the Bill of
Rights.
As a petition for certiorari, the Court finds that the question of sufficiency of evidence to
support the determination that the petitioners are guilty cannot now be entertained for it has
already been discussed by the Court of Appeals finding that the petitioners goal is to achieve a
successful overthrow of the government.
ISSUES:
1. Whether or not Sections 2 and 3 of the Smith Act violate the First Amendment (free
speech and free press), and other provisions of the Bill of Rights.
2. Whether or not Sections 2 and 3 of the Smith Act violate the First Amendment and the
Fifth Amendment (right to due process) because of indefiniteness.
HELD:
1. No.
Petitioners allege that the statute is invalid on the grounds that it prohibits academic
discussion, contrary to the rights of free speech and a free press. The Court did not find this
argument convincing, since the statutes is directed at the advocacy of the overthrow of the
government, and not at the discussion. Accused persons cannot be found guilty under the Smith
Act if they were just merely pursuing peaceful studies and discussions or teaching and advocacy
of ideas. Freedom of expression is not an unlimited and unqualified right, for it may be regulated
by the Government taking into consideration the interest of the public. The question in every
case is whether the words used are of such nature as to create a clear and present danger that will
bring about substantive evils that the Congress has every right to prevent. It is entirely reasonable
Prepared by: Jo-Anne D. Coloquio

for a state to protect itself from a violent overthrow, which is the purpose of the statute. There are
certain kinds of speech which are undesirable as to make them criminal. If the government
cannot protect itself from an armed internal attack, then no other matter of even less value can be
protected. The Government cannot wait until the plan is to be executed and only the signal is
waited for. It is reasonable that if the Government is aware that there exists a group aiming and
attempting an overthrow, action must be expected from it. They are not required to wait to be
able to measure the probability that the rebellious group can succeed, before they strike. The fact
that from 1945 to 1948 the activities of the petitioners did not result in an attempted overthrow is
overshadowed by the fact that there already exists a group ready to execute an overthrow, so
basically conspiracy already creates the danger although only still preparatory.
2. No.
The petitioners argue that the statute is vague, contravening the First and Fifth Amendments.
The standard is not as clear as a mathematical formula and can be subject to criticism but the
proper standard clear and present danger is sufficient to hold the validity of the statute. All
factors coming under an act deemed punishable by a statute cannot be possibly included in the
law. There is the proper standard to sufficiently give notice to people what acts are prohibited by
the statute.

Prepared by: Jo-Anne D. Coloquio