Although Ruthenberg v. Michigan (1927) was dismissed, Justice Brandeis’s
used his dissent to later form arguments that expanded speech protection
under the First Amendment.
Criminal Syndicalism Laws
Numerous states and U.S. territories enacted criminal syndicalism laws in the late 1910s and early 1920s with the purpose of making it illegal for individuals or groups to advocate radical political and economic changes by criminal or violent means.
The Supreme Court regularly upheld convictions under criminal syndicalism laws until Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969). In that case, the Court held that Ohio’s law made the advocacy of doctrines illegal, without determining whether advocacy would likely lead to imminent lawless action. The Court decided that the failure to make a clear distinction rendered the law overly broad and in violation of the Constitution.
Following are Supreme Court cases involving criminal syndicalism laws and the evolution of the court's position on them.
Schenck v. United States (1919) demonstrated the limits to the First
Amendment during wartime and affirmed the conviction of Charles Schenck for
violating the Espionage Act.
In Abrams v. U.S., the Supreme Court in 1919 upheld the convictions of
several individuals under the 1918 Sedition Act for distributing leaflets
opposed to U.S. intervention in the Russian civil war involving the
In Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the Court ruled that speech advocating
illegal conduct is protected by the First Amendment unless it is likely to
incite “imminent lawless action.”