Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gitlow v. New York case brief

Gitlow v. New York case brief summary
268 U.S. 652 (1925)

Defendant had been convicted by a jury and sentenced for criminal anarchy in violation of N.Y. Penal Law §§ 160 and 161 for helping publish a manifesto for the Socialist party. The conviction and sentence were affirmed by the lower appellate courts. Defendant appealed his sentence from the Supreme Court of New York for the crime of criminal anarchy in violation of N.Y. Penal Law §§ 160 and 161.

Defendant appealed, alleging that N.Y. Penal Law §§ 160 and 161 violated U.S. Constitutional Amendment XIV.


  • On appeal, the Court affirmed the decisions of the lower courts because the statutes as construed and applied did not violate U.S. Constitutional Amendment XIV. 
  • The statutes did not penalize the utterance or publication of abstract doctrine having no quality of incitement to concrete action, but instead prohibited language advocating the overthrow of the government by unlawful means. 
  • The Court found that the language in defendant's manifesto was direct language of incitement. 
  • The Court held that freedom of speech and of the press were not absolute rights, but were subject to reasonable limitations by the states. 
  • For this reason, New York could punish utterances endangering the foundation of lawful government and threatening to overthrow it by unlawful means. 
  • N.Y. Penal Law §§ 160 and 161 were proper exercises of the State's police power and were not arbitrary and capricious.

The Court affirmed defendant's conviction because New York's criminal anarchy statute did not violate the Due Process Clause. The statute was a proper exercise of the State's police power.

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