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Dennis v. United States | Study Guide

United States Supreme Court

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Course Hero. "Dennis v. United States Study Guide." December 13, 2019. Accessed January 27, 2023.


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United States Supreme Court

Year Published



Primary Source


Law, U.S. Supreme Court Case

At a Glance

  • In 1940 the Smith Act was passed in response to both anti-noncitizen sentiment and concerns over wartime security.
  • In 1945 the end of World War II saw the beginning of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, and with it a wave of anti-communist sentiment both in the public and political spheres.
  • In 1948 11 members of the U.S. Communist Party, including General Secretary Eugene Dennis, were arrested on charges of plotting to overthrow the U.S. government.
  • The trial process began in New York City in November 1948 and concluded in October 1949, making it the longest federal trial in U.S. history at that time.
  • On October 14, 1949 the defendants were found guilty on the grounds that their ideology was harmful to the U.S. government, although it was not shown that they had a plan to overthrow the government.
  • An attempt to appeal the conviction and sentence failed, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in relation to the constitutionality of the Smith Act.
  • The case was argued before the Supreme Court on December 4, 1950. The Court upheld the conviction and the constitutionality of the Smith Act in a ruling handed down on June 4, 1951.
  • In 1957 Yates v. United States challenged the ruling in Dennis, and the new ruling restricted the broad conspiracy provisions of the Smith Act.
  • In 1969 Brandenburg v. Ohio effectively overturned Dennis and the Smith Act by ruling that advocating for the overthrow of the government is not illegal unless the speech in question results in "imminent lawless action."


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