The Hughes Court (1930–41)

First Amendment

In what decision did the Hughes Court invalidate the criminal conviction of an African American communist on First Amendment grounds?

The Hughes Court ruled 5–4 in Herndon v. Lowry (1937) that African American communist activist Angelo Herndon’s conviction could not stand based on First Amendment concerns. Georgia law enforcement officials had charged Herndon under a state law that prohibited attempting to incite an insurrection. The officials charged Herndon after learning that he had traveled from Kentucky and held three meetings in which he tried to recruit individuals to the Communist Party. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed Herndon’s conviction in part because there was “no evidence … by speech or written word, at meetings or elsewhere, any doctrine or action implying such forcible subversion.” The Court concluded that Herndon’s meetings did not meet the definition of attempting to incite an insurrection. In his majority opinion, Justice Owen Roberts explained that Herndon’s “membership in the Communist Party and his solicitation of a few members wholly fails to establish an attempt to incite others to insurrection.” Roberts concluded that the statute itself was too vague to withstand constitutional scrutiny, writing that it “amounts merely to a dragnet which may enmesh any one who agitates for a change of government.”


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Supreme Court Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App