Facts of the Case

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Eugene Debs delivered a public speech that incited his audience to interfere with military recruitment during World War I. He was indicted for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 for allegedly attempting to cause insubordination and refusal of duty in the US military. He was also accused of attempted obstruction recruitment and enlistment. He appealed his conviction on First Amendment grounds. 



  1. Did Debs' conviction under the Espionage Act of 1917 violate his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech?


  1. In a unanimous opinion by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Court upheld Debs’s conviction. The Court reasoned that Debs's case was similar to Schenck v. United States (1919), in which the Court had concluded that the arrest of an individual for distributing leaflets encouraging readers to oppose the draft was constitutional. The Court found Debs's sympathy for individuals convicted of opposing the draft and obstructing recruitment analogous to the situation in Schenck. Thus, his conviction was valid.