Abrams v. United States Case Brief

Facts of the case

In 1918, the United States participated in a military operation on Russian soil against Germany after the Russian Revolution overthrew the tsarist regime. Russian immigrants in the US circulated literature calling for a general strike in ammunition plants to undermine the US war effort. The defendants were convicted for two leaflets thrown from a New York City window. One denounced the sending of American troops to Russia, and the second denounced the war and advocated for the cessation of the production of weapons to be used against Soviet Russia. They were sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Why is the case important?

The defendants’ convictions for distributing leaflets advocating strikes during the Russian Revolution were upheld because their speech was not protected by the United States Constitution (Constitution) based on the “clear and present danger” test.

Question

Whether the Defendants’ speech was protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution?

ANSWER

No. Men must be held to have intended and to be accountable for the effects which their acts are likely to produce. The plain purpose of Defendants’ propaganda was to excite, at the supreme crisis of war, disaffection, sedition, riots and as they hoped, revolution in this country for the purpose of embarrassing and if possible defeating the military plans of the Government in Europe. Therefore, their speech is not protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

CONCLUSION

The Court ruled that there was substantial evidence to support the verdicts charging defendants with intending to incite resistance to the war and to curtail the production of ammunition. Because the sentence imposed did not exceed that which might lawfully have been imposed under any single count of the indictment, the Court was not required to consider the sufficiency of the evidence as to all of the counts, as there was sufficient evidence to support at least one of the counts. The Court rejected defendants’ contention that their only intent was to prevent injury to the Russian cause, holding that men had to be held to have intended, and to be accountable for, the effects that their acts were likely to produce.

  • Advocates: Harry Weinberger for the plaintiffs in error Robert P. Stewart Assistant Attorney General, Department of Justice, for the defendant in error
  • Petitioner: Jacob Abrams et al.
  • Respondent: United States
  • DECIDED BY:White Court
  • Location: –
Citation: 250 US 616 (1919)
Argued: Oct 21 – 22, 1919
Decided: Nov 10, 1919
Abrams v. United States Case Brief