Chapter Five: Freedom of Speech

The Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1918 said that it was illegal to utter or write any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language intended to incite resistance to the United States or to curtail war production. In the 1919 case of Schenck versus the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that his conviction based on those laws was constitutional.

Explain the Supreme Court’s reasoning in this case. What was the basis of their decision?

In 1919, the Supreme Court ruled that Charles Schenck’s conviction based on the Espionage and Sedition Acts was constitutional. Justice Oliver Holmes’s famous opinion that any expressions posing a clear and present danger of suceeding was used to support this decision.

What is prior restraint? When does the Supreme Court say it is okay to use prior restraint?

Prior restraint is censorship imposed, usually by the government before expression actually takes place. The Supreme Court says it’s okay to use prior restraint when the content being censored is libelous or harmful.

What are the Pentagon Papers and how do they relate to prior restraint? How did the supreme court rule on this issue? What was the reasoning of the Supreme Court in this case?

The Pentagon Papers were the United States Department of Defense’s history of political and military involvement in Vietnam. They relate to prior restraint because a claim was filed that the papers shouldn’t be released because they posed a significant threat to safety. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the New York Times, because they found that the United States hadn’t met their burden of proof required for prior restraint.