1937 January 4

First Amendment Victory in “De Jonge v. Oregon”


A member of the Communist Party, Dirk De Jonge organized a public meeting on July 27, 1934, where he was arrested. He was then convicted of violating the Oregon Criminal Syndicalism statute, which prohibited advocating the overthrow of the government. The Supreme Court ruled that convicting him for simply conducting a meeting violated the First Amendment.

In retrospect, the decision on this day was an early sign that the Supreme Court was beginning the process of becoming a strong defender of civil liberties, which it did under the “Roosevelt Court” from 1937 to 1945.

The Court: “. . . Peaceable assembly for lawful discussion cannot be made a crime. The holding of meetings for peaceable political action cannot be proscribed. Those who assist in the conduct of such meetings cannot be branded as criminals on that score.”

Learn more: Jamie Kalven and Harry Kalven, A Worthy Tradition: Freedom of Speech in America (1988)

Read: Nat Hentoff, The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America (1980)

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