The Smith Act of 1940 was a U.S. law that prohibited advocating violent overthrow of the government. Citing the Act, American Communist Party leaders were tried in New York City from 1949 to 1958.
The defendants claimed they advocated only a peaceful transition to socialism, and that the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech and of association protected their membership in a political party.
Appeals from these trials reached the US Supreme Court, which ruled:
Dennis v. United States (1951) – In a 6-to-2 decision, the Court upheld the convictions of the Communist Party leaders and found that the Smith Act did not “inherently” violate the First Amendment.
Yates v. United States (1957) –In a 6-to-1 decision, the Court reversed the convictions and remanded the cases to a District Court for retrial.