De Jonge v. State of Oregon
Decided on Jan. 4, 1937; 299 US 533


The Court extended to the states the federal protection of the right of peaceful assembly for lawful discussion.

 

I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Freedom of expression and association

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does Oregon's Criminal Syndicalism statute, which "defines 'criminal syndicalism' as 'the doctrine which advocates crime, physical violence, sabotage, or any unlawful acts or methods as a means of accomplishing or effecting industrial or political change or revolution,'" as applied to Appellant, who participated in a meeting held by the Communist Party, violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"Appellant, Dirk De Jonge, was indicted in Multnomah County, Or., for violation of the Criminal Syndicalism Law of that State. The act... defines 'criminal syndicalism' as 'the doctrine which advocates crime, physical violence, sabotage, or any unlawful acts or methods as a means of accomplishing or effecting industrial or political change or revolution.' With this preliminary definition the act proceeds to describe a number of offenses, embracing the teaching of criminal syndicalism, the printing or distribution of books, pamphlets, etc., advocating that doctrine, the organization of a society or assemblage which advocates it, and presiding at or assisting in conducting a meeting of such an organization, society or group...

The charge is that appellant assisted in the conduct of a meeting which was called under the auspices of the Communist Party, an organization advocating criminal syndicalism... Appellant moved for a direction of acquittal, contending that the statute as applied to him, for merely assisting at a meeting called by the Communist Party at which nothing unlawful was done or advocated, violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

This contention was overruled. Appellant was found guilty as charged and was sentenced to imprisonment for seven years. The judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the State which considered the constitutional question and sustained the statute as thus applied. "

On appeal the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Oregon.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Mr. Osmond K. Fraenkel, of New York City, for appellant.
Mr. Maurice E. Tarshis, Dep. Dist. Atty., of Portland, Or., for the State of Oregon.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"[C]onsistently with the Federal Constitution, peaceable assembly for lawful discussion cannot be made a crime. The holding of meetings for peaceable political action cannot be proscribed. Those who assist in the conduct of such meetings cannot be branded as criminals on that score. The question, if the rights of free speech and peaceable assembly are to be preserved, is not as to the auspices under which the meeting is held but as to its purpose; not as to the relations of the speakers, but whether their utterances transcend the bounds of the freedom of speech which the Constitution protects. If the persons assembling have committed crimes elsewhere, if they have formed or are engaged in a conspiracy against the public peace and order, they may be prosecuted for their conspiracy or other violation of valid laws. But it is a different matter when the State, instead of prosecuting them for such offenses, seizes upon mere participation in a peaceable assembly and a lawful public discussion as the basis for a criminal charge.

We are not called upon to review the findings of the state court as to the objectives of the Communist Party. Notwithstanding those objectives, the defendant still enjoyed his personal right of free speech and to take part in a peaceable assembly having a lawful purpose, although called by that party.

We hold that the Oregon statute as applied to the particular charge as defined by the state court is repugnant to the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The judgment of conviction is reversed and the cause is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion."
Justice Vote: 8 Pros v. 0 Cons
  • Hughes, C.Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Roberts, O.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brandeis, L. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Cardozo, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Butler, P.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Van Devanter, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • McReynolds, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Sutherland, G. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stone, H. Took no part in the decision making process of the case
  • V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

    The ACLU, as counsel of record, urged reversal of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Oregon; the US Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling in a 8-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win