National Constitution CenterCenturies of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline Exhibit
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1907-1930: We are a diverse nation, confronting our differences

November 10, 1919
The Court grapples with issues of free speech in a democratic society

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

“Congress certainly cannot forbid all effort to change the mind of the country.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes
Dissent in Abrams v. United States

The Supreme Court just rejected the appeals of four “long-haired anarchists” jailed for printing leaflets urging workers to strike in support of the Russian Revolution.

Their propaganda, said the majority, might have caused “riots and…revolution.” The authors are responsible for what could have happened because of their words.

Justices Holmes and Brandeis dissented, arguing for a much tougher standard before letting the government restrict speech. Free speech, says Holmes, creates a marketplace of ideas. We shouldn’t suppress a message unless there’s an immediate danger it will lead to a criminal act.

There’s no “clear and imminent danger” here, he says, calling the leaflets “silly.”

Read about it in the New York times

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