Walter Chaplinsky, a Jehovah's Witness, was arrested for calling a city official a "God-damned racketeer" and "damned fascist" in a public place. The Supreme Court decided that these were "fighting words" that were meant to "inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breech of the peace." Like obscene, profane and libelous words and expression, fighting words did not have First Amendment protection.
Read the decision: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1940-1949/1941/1941_255/
Ex Parte Quirin (1942)
In a decision that has been relied on by the Bush Administration to defend the military commissions it established at Guantanamo Bay to try suspected "enemy combatants," the US Supreme Court upheld the jurisdiction of the military tribunal which presided over the trial of eight Germans who during the Second World War entered the US secretly to conduct sabotage operations. The court said even though civilian courts were open, the saboteurs were "unlawful belligerents" who did not have Sixth Amendment protections and should be tried by military courts. The eight Germans were sentenced to death. Six were executed and President Roosevelt commuted the death sentences of two of the men.
Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi, a student at the University of Washington, was convicted of breaking the 8 PM 6 AM curfew to which people of Japanese descent were subjected in "military areas" (the entire West Coast and southern Arizona) before being removed to internment camps. The Supreme Court upheld his conviction and upheld the legitimacy of the curfew. The court declared that "the adoption by government, in the crisis of war and of threatened invasion, of measures for the public safety, based upon the recognition of facts and circumstances which indicate that a group of one national extraction may menace that safety more than others, is not wholly beyond the limits of the Constitution."
Read the decision: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1940-1949/1942/1942_870/
Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu, an American citizen of Japanese descent, refused to leave
and report to an assembly center prior to being removed to an internment camp. The entire West Coast and southern
had been designated as "military zones" from which Japanese-Americans were excluded. The Supreme Court by 6-3 ruled that the president and Congress did not go beyond their war powers when it excluded people of Japanese descent and restricted the rights of Japanese-Americans. The court said that the need to protect against espionage outweighed Korematsu's rights. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black denied that discrimination on racial grounds lay behind the exclusion order and argued instead that "there was evidence of disloyalty" on the part of some people of Japanese descent. He acknowledged the hardships that removal caused, but said "hardships are a part of war." In a strongly worded dissent, Justice Frank Murphy declared that exclusion on the basis of military necessity in the absence of martial law goes over "the very brink of constitutional power and falls into the ugly abyss of racism." He also wrote that the majority opinion amounted to the "legalization of racism." The Korematsu ruling has never been reversed by the Supreme Court, although in 1983 Fred Korematsu's conviction for refusing to be interned was overturned by a federal district court judge.
Read the decision: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1940-1949/1944/1944_22/
Eleven members of the American Community Party had been convicted under the Smith Act of willfully advocating the overthrow of the
government by force or violence. The Supreme Court upheld their convictions, drawing a distinction between teaching about communism and actively advocating communist views that threatened the government. The fact that such advocacy was not likely to succeed was irrelevant. It still presented a "clear and present danger" that does not enjoy First Amendment protection.
Read the decision: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1965/1965_502/
Adler v. Board of Education (1952)
The Supreme Court found constitutional a
state law which prohibited any person from teaching or holding any other position in public schools if he or she advocated the overthrow of the government by force. Merely belonging to an organization that had been listed as one advocating the overthrow of the government by force was enough to disqualify a person from such employment. According to the court, "School authorities have the right and duty to screen the officials, teachers, and employees as to their fitness in order to maintain the integrity of the schools." This decision was reversed in 1967 in Keyishian v. Board of Regents, when the court struck down the New York loyalty oath and ruled that membership in the Communist Party was not sufficient reason to disqualify someone from teaching in a public school.
Read the decision: http://supreme.justia.com/us/342/485
Fourteen members of the Communist Party in
were convicted under the Smith Act, which made it unlawful to advocate the overthrow of the
government by force. They argued that they were not involved in active attempts to overthrow the government, and that their mere advocacy of certain ideas should be protected by the First Amendment. The US Supreme Court agreed, and overturned their convictions. In its ruling, the court drew a distinction between advocating an abstract doctrine or idea which was protected speech and the advocacy of a particular form of action aimed at overthrowing the government, which was not. The court ruled that people could only be successfully prosecuted under the Smith Act if it was proved that they incited others to a specific action aimed at the forcible overthrow of the government.
Listen to the oral argument: http://www.oyez.org/oyez/resource/case/454/audioresources
By 5-4 the Supreme Court held that a group did not have the First Amendment right of freedom to speech and association if it advocated the violent overthrow of the government. Nor did the Fifth Amendment's due process clause protect an individual who belonged to an organization that was conspiring to overthrow the government by force, even if there was no likelihood of immediate action being taken.
Listen to the oral argument: http://www.oyez.org/oyez/resource/case/1069/audioresources
Communist Party of
v. Subversive Activities Control Board (1961)
Because the Communist Party of the
United States of America
was regarded as a movement dominated by a nation hostile to the
, the court concluded that the Party had to register with the Justice Department. According to the court, it was not a violation of the First Amendment to force the Party to hand over its membership lists and financial statements. This decision was reversed four years later in Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board.
Read the decision: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0367_0001_ZD1.html