Dennis v. US Case Brief

Summary of Dennis v. US


Smith Act makes it unlawful for any person to teach about overthrowing the government. P was convicted because he organized a communist group which taught communist ideology.

Procedural History:

Found guilty and affirmed by the second circuit court.


Does the Smith Act violate the constitution?


No, the Smith Act is directed at advocacy, not discussion of academic philosophy, so it doesn’t violate the first amendment.


Clear and present danger test. Doesn’t have to be an immediate strike, but that they are ready to strike when the circumstances permit. Here, there was a sufficient danger.

There must be a substantial interest (here, prevention of the overthrow of the government by violence). “In each case the courts must ask whether the gravity of the evil, discounted by its improbability, justifies such invasion of free speech as is necessary to avoid the danger".

It doesn’t matter whether or not the overthrow had a possibility of being successful.




Frankfurter concur: Courts are not policy-makers. It is up to Congress to decide how the competing interests should be weighed.

Jackson concur: The clear and present danger test should be used for cases different than this one. In this case, if you used the clear and present danger test, the government wouldn’t be able to act until it was too late.

Douglas dissent: there was no evidence of a plot to overthrow the government. All they did was teach Marxist doctrine. Here, there was just speech. No speech plus acts of sabotage.

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