The Smith Act and its relation to Watkins v. US and Yates v. US
The Smith Act was a federal law adopted in 1940 that made it illegal to advocate the violent overthrow of the government. The Smith Act was a product of America’s prewar anxieties. Proposed by Representative Howard W. Smith of Virginia, the measure was one of several anti-subversive bills introduced in Congress during 1939. A modified version was adopted by both houses on June 22, 1940, as Title I of the Alien Registration Act.
Section I provided a fine of up to ten thousand dollars and ten years in prison for attempting to undermine the morale of the armed forces. Sections II and III provided the same penalties for anyone who “advocates, abets, advises, or teaches” the violent overthrow of the government; publishes or distributes printed matter that advocates the violent overthrow; organizes any society with such a purpose; knowingly joins such a society; or conspires to do any of the above.
The Smith Act was initially invoked in 1941 against eighteen members of the Socialist Workers party in Minnesota but was rarely used during World War II. After the war, it became a primary weapon in the government’s war on domestic communists.
In the Supreme Court Case Watkins v. United States, in 1954, John Watkins, a labor organizer, was called upon to testify in hearings conducted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Watkins agreed to describe his alleged connections with the Communist Party and to identify current members of the Party. Watkins refused to give information concerning individuals who had left the Communist Party. Watkins argued that such questions were beyond the authority of the Committee.
On March 22, 1947, President Truman issued his Executive Order 9835, which decreed that "there shall be a loyalty investigation" of every Federal employee. During the next four years some three million individuals were examined and cleared, over 3000 have resigned while being investigated, 308 were dismissed as "security risks" and only one-a 27-year-old-girl analyst in the Justice Department-was ...
During 1956 to 1957, the Supreme Court Case, Yates v. United States, was presented. It involved freedom of speech and congressional power. Fourteen people were charged with violating the Smith Act for being part of the Communist Party of the USA. She claimed that her party was engaged in passive actions and that any violation of the Smith Act must involve active attempts to overthrow the government. The Act prohibited willfully and knowingly conspiring to teach and advocate the overthrow of the government by force. This case was decided in conjunction with Richmond v. United States and Schneiderman v. United States.