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C, Criminal Syndicalism Laws,

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman

From: The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd Edition)

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall

From: Oxford Constitutions (http://oxcon.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 07 June 2023

Criminal Syndicalism Laws,

statutes making it a crime to defend, advocate, or set up an organization committed to the use of crime, violence, sabotage, or other unlawful means to bring about a change in the form of government or in industrial ownership or control. Twenty states enacted such laws between 1917 and 1920. Their target was a radical labor organization known as the Industrial Workers of the World. Since the IWW was strongest in the West, criminal syndicalism laws appeared first in that region. The prototype was a 1917 Idaho statute. Some states, such as California, prosecuted a number of radicals for *criminal syndicalism during the post–*World War I Red Scare, and there were also prosecutions under these statutes during the *labor troubles of the 1930s. Thereafter, they fell into disuse.

In *Whitney v. California (1927), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a criminal syndicalism law. Justice Louis *Brandeis attacked the majority’s position in an opinion regarded as the classic statement of the *”clear and present danger” test for the protection of free speech (see speech and the press). The Court first reversed a criminal syndicalism law in Fiske v. Kansas (1927). In a broader ruling in *DeJonge v. Oregon (1937), the justices held that it was a violation of the *First Amendment for a state to punish someone for participating in a peaceful meeting sponsored by an organization that advocated criminal syndicalism. Finally, in *Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the Court struck down an Ohio criminal syndicalism law, overruled Whitney, and imposed narrow First Amendment restrictions on the punishment of speech advocating violence or unlawful action.

See also subversion.

Michal R. Belknap