Debs v. United States

PETITIONER: Eugene V. Debs
RESPONDENT: United States

DECIDED BY: White Court (1916-1921)

ARGUED: Jan 27, 1919 / Jan 28, 1919
DECIDED: Mar 10, 1919

Facts of the case

The Espionage Act of 1917 made it a crime to "convey information with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the armed forces of the United States or to promote the success of its enemies." This had the effect of constraining sedition and political speech. On June 16, 1918, Eugene V. Debs, a leader of the Socialist Party of America, gave a speech in Canton, Ohio protesting involvement in World War I. During the speech, he discussed the rise of socialism and specifically praised individuals who had refused to serve in the military and obstructed military recruiting. For his speech, Debs was arrested and charged with violating the Espionage Act. At trial, Debs argued the Espionage Act violated his right to free speech under the First Amendment. A federal district court rejected his claim and sentenced Debs to ten years in prison.


Did Debs' conviction under the Espionage Act of 1917 violate his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech?