[Chicago? 1951]. 8pp. Gathered signatures. Some discoloration along top edge, minor wear. Very good. Item #4061
A rare amicus brief intended for submission to the United States Supreme Court relating to the decision in Dennis v. United States, which upheld convictions against eleven Communist Party leaders for advocating the forceful overthrow of the U.S. government under the Smith Act. The Alien Registration Act (or Smith Act) of 1940 required all adult non-citizens in the U.S. to register with the federal government and also set penalties for advocating for the overthrow of said government. The 1951 Dennis decision had a chilling effect on the rights of protest guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, particularly for marginalized groups such as African Americans.
The authors of the present brief, Richard E. Westbrooks and Earl B. Dickerson, describe themselves as "Negro citizens, each a member of the bar of the State of Illinois and also of this Court," who filed this document as an amicus curiae in support of the pending petition for a rehearing of the Smith Act case (Dennis v. United States) or for its reversal altogether. The authors felt the Dennis decision had "a disastrous impact upon the century-old struggle of the Negro people for complete emancipation." As they argue, the right to protest is of vital concern to African Americans ("a specially persecuted minority group in our body politic") who are "peculiarly dependent upon the exercise of the fundamental rights involved in political expression." The authors wrap their argument in patriotic language as well as they can: "Negro citizens are vitally concerned over the Court's decision, both because they regard the right of political expression as a basic democratic right and because history has taught them that liberty is indivisible. The constitutional rights of the Negroes under the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments cannot be divorced from the free enjoyment by all of our people of the protections of the Bill of Rights. The decision in weakening a basic liberty places in jeopardy the special rights written into the Constitution to assure democratic protections of Negroes."
Sadly, the Dennis case was never scheduled for a rehearing, but was effectively overturned by the 1969 decision in Brandenbrug v. Ohio, though obviously much too late for those involved in the original case. The Brandenburg decision limited the scope of protest to speech "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action." The present brief stands as a signpost in the continuing struggle for free expression for Communists, African Americans, and other marginalized groups seeking to exercise First Amendment rights under their own Constitution. OCLC records nine copies, at San Francisco State, Stanford, the Bancroft, UC-Davis, Yale Law School, the University of Illinois, Frostburg State University, the University of Michigan, and the Wisconsin Historical Society.