The Law School Authority

Yates v. U.S. Case Brief

Summary of Yates v. U.S., 354 U.S. 298 (1957)

Facts: Pets were principal organizers and leaders of the Communist Part in California.

Issue(s): Whether the Smith Act prohibits advocacy and teaching of forcible overthrow as an abstract principle, separate from any effort to instigate action to that end, if that advocacy or teaching includes evil intent?

Holding: No, the Act does not prohibit advocacy and teaching as an abstract principle.

Procedure: Jury trial U.S D. Ct on single Cnt Indictment conspiring to 1) advocate and teach a duty and necessity of overthrowing the US Govt by force and violence; and 2) organize people to advocate and teach w/ the intent to cause the overthrow by force and violence.   Jury returned conviction.  USSCt ordered acquittal of 5 out of 14 finding no adequate evid to support retrial and remanded remaining 9 cases.

Rule(s): 1st Amend; and Dennis

Rationale: First construe the statute.  Do not assume Congress chose to disregard a Const’l danger zone or that it used the words “advocate” and “teach” in their ordinary meaning when the terms have already been construed as terms of art–special and limited meaning.

Advocacy of violent action to be taken at some future time is not enough. The line between traditional advocacy as an abstract doctrine and advocacy of action remains.  A statement of an idea which may prompt listeners to take unlawful action is completely distinct from advocacy that unlawful action be taken.

Mere doctrinal justification regarding forcible overthrow, with the intent to accomplish the eventual overthrow is too remote from concrete action to be regarded as the type of preparatory action condemned in Dennis.

Including as part of the prohibited advocacy the terms “urging” “necessity” and “duty” of forcible overthrow may not be regarded as a sufficient substitute to charge a person with a crime under the Act, as advocating action to overthrow the Govt by force and violence.  The essential distinction is that those whom the advocacy is directed MUST be urged to do something, now or in the future, rather than just believing in something.

Pl’s A: The dividing line is not between inciting and abstract advocacy of forcible overthrow, but between advocacy and the mere discussion or display of violent overthrow as an abstract theory.

Df’s A: The Smith Act violates the First Amendment when a person is charged with conspiracy to violate the Act b/c the Act only prohibits advocacy that incites illegal action and not mere advocacy.

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