The White Court (1910–21)

First Amendment

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, which presidential candidate violated the Espionage Act of 1917?

The White Court ruled unanimously in Debs v. United States (1919) that Socialist Eugene Debs, who ran for president multiple times, violated the Espionage Act when he gave speeches in Canton, Ohio, and St. Louis, Missouri, that opposed the United States’ war effort. Writing for the Court, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes upheld a jury instruction that told the jurors they could not find Debs guilty based on his speech “unless the words used had as their natural tendency and reasonably probable effect to obstruct the recruiting service, and unless the defendant had the specific intent to do so in his mind.” This opinion conflicts with modern-day First Amendment jurisprudence, as many politicians and others condemn U.S. military action abroad in harsher language than that employed by Eugene Debs.


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