During World War I, Debs (a
Socialist!) made an anti-war speech. He was arrested and charged with
violating the Sedition Act of 1918.
The Sedition Act was an amendment to the Espionage
Act of 1917, and basically made it a
crime to (among other things), "utter, print, write, or publish any
disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" intended to
cause contempt or scorn for the form of government of the US, hinder the
war effort, or support the cause of countries at war with the US.
He was convicted and sentenced
to 10 years in prison. He appealed.
Debs argued that the Sedition
Act was an unconstitutional
infringement on his 1st Amendment right to free speech.
The US Supreme Court upheld
The US Supreme Court looked
to Schenck v. United States (249
U.S. 47 (1919)) and found there was a clear and present danger
exception to freedom of speech.
The clear and present
danger exception says that a law is
constitutional if it can be shown that the language it prohibits poses a
"clear and present danger."
The Court found that Debs
was attempting to arouse mutiny and treason by preventing the drafting of
soldiers, and during wartime, those actions were a clear and present
Oddly, Debs ran for President
from prison and won 3.4% of the popular vote. He was released from prison
a year later when the Sedition Act
and the Espionage Act were