DeJonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353 (1937)

2012-06-12 03:49:53

In 1934, about three hundred people attended a meeting organized by the Communist Party in Portland, Oregon, to support a maritime workers’ strike. Fewer than 15 percent of them were Communist Party members. Speaker Dirk DeJonge, a party member, spoke against police shootings of strikers and raids on party headquarters and workers’ halls. He encouraged attendees to buy party literature, join the party, and gather people to attend another Communist Party meeting the following night.

Police raided the orderly meeting, confiscated party literature, and arrested DeJonge and three other meeting organizers. DeJonge was charged, convicted, and sentenced to seven years in prison under the Oregon criminal syndicalism statute for helping conduct a Communist Party meeting. Criminal syndicalism laws prohibit advocating or organizing a group to use unlawful means to overthrow business owners or government. The prosecution did not claim that DeJonge advocated illegal acts, but did present Communist Party literature from other sources that suggested the party supported such advocacy.

The Supreme Court struck down the conviction as a violation of the essence of constitutionally guaranteed personal liberty. The Court ruled unanimously that government may not proscribe ‘‘the holding of meetings for peaceable political action.’’ The First Amendment, as applied through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits states from regulating free speech or assembly that does not incite violence or crime. In 1969, in Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969), the Court said states may forbid only advocacy of criminal acts that is directed toward and likely to produce imminent illegal action.


References and Further Reading

  • Blasi, Vincent, The Pathological Perspective and the First Amendment, Colum. L. Rev. 85 (1985): 449.
  • Parrish, Michael E., New Deal Symposium: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the American Legal Order, 59 Wash. L. Rev. 723 (1984)
  • U.S. Constitution. Amendments One, Fourteen.

Cases and Statutes Cited