1918 January 7

Supreme Court Rules Draft Does Not Violate 13th Amendment


The Supreme Court on this day rejected the argument that the World War I draft violated the Thirteenth Amendment prohibition on slavery. The decision, which consolidated several individual cases, is referred to as the Selective Draft Law Cases.

In the first months of the war, radical opponents of the war, including Emma Goldman, argued that a compulsory draft was a form of slavery in violation of the Thirteen Amendment. The slavery argument was made in the pamphlet distributed by Charles T. Schenck, whose arrest and appeal resulted in the famous “clear and present danger” test in Schenck v. United States (March 3, 1919).

The text of the 13th Amendment:


Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


Learn more about dissent in war time: Geoffrey Stone, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (2004)



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