1965 July 20

New York Criminal Anarchy Law Repealed


New York state on this day repealed its Criminal Anarchy Act, enacted on April 3, 1902. The law became the model for similar state laws in twenty-nine other states, such as the California Criminal Syndicalism law. These laws were used during the 1920s and 1930s as the primary instrument for state prosecutions of alleged radicals for their political views.

The New York Criminal Anarchy law has a special place in American constitutional law history. During the Red Scare (1919–1920), it was used to prosecute Benjamin Gitlow for advocating the violent overthrow of the government. Gitlow’s appeal to the Supreme Court resulted in the landmark decision of Gitlow v. New York, on June 8, 1925, in which the Court for the first time held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporated the free speech and free press clauses of the First Amendment and made them applicable to the states. The “incorporation” doctrine became the basis for the civil liberties and civil rights revolution in the following decades, as the Supreme Court incorporated other provisions of the Bill of Rights into the Fourteenth Amendment.

Learn more about the Gitlow case: Marc Lendler, Gitlow v. New York: Every Idea an Incitement (2012)

Learn more about the history of criminal anarchy, criminal syndicalism, sedition, and similar laws: Geoffrey Stone, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (2004)

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