Schenck v. United States

249 U.S. 47 (1919)


The Espionage Act of 1917 made it a crime to obstruct the recruiting or enlistment services of the United States. The penalty was imprisonment for 20 years and fines up to $10,000. During World War I, Schenck (D) mailed circulars to potential draftees. These circulars stated that the Conscription Act was unconstitutional as it violated the 13th Amendment, that conscripts were little better than convicts, that conscription was despotic and monstrous, and encouraged disobedience to it. The circulars urged: 'Do not submit to intimidation,' but advised only peaceful actions such as a petition to repeal the Conscription Act. The back of the circular was labeled “Assert Your Rights” and announced that it was the constitutional right and duty of citizens to assert their opposition to the draft. “ keep silent on conscription would assist the conspiracy of cunning politicians and a mercenary capitalist press.” D was charged with violation of the Act, conspiracy to violate the act, and attempting to cause insubordination in the armed services. The jury found that the circulars could have no purpose except to influence draftees, thereby obstructing performance of the draft. D was convicted of attempting to cause insubordination. D appealed.