History of Case Gitlow versus New York essay

Freedom of Speech

History of Case Gitlow v. New York

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Gitlow v.New York was a decision that was made by the supreme court of the United States on June 8, 1925 which ruled that the fourteenth amendment to the constitution of the United States extended the reach of limitations of the federal government authority that that had been set in the First amendment. The specific provisions were protection of freedom of speech and that of press to governments of individuals in the state on New York. It was just among a series of supreme court cases that were used to define the scope of the first amendment protecting freedom of speech and establishment of standards to which federal government or state would be held in case it is criminalized writing or speech (Digital History, 2013).

People involved in the case

The case was against a member of the socialist party of America; Benjamin Gitlow had served in the New York State Assembly and the state of New York. John Caldwell Myers, the Assistant District Attorney of the New York and W.J Weatherrbee were fighting with the New York against Gitlow. On the other hand Gitlow was represented by Walter Pollack (Tangient LLC, 2013).

The case

Gitlow had been charged with criminal anarchy for publishing a document known as Left Wing Manifesto in a newspaper the revolutionary age where he was the business manager. The published copies that were in circulation were about 16,000.He had been charged with making attempts of overthrowing the government of the United States .in the constitution the case includes the fourth and fourteenth amendments. Gitlow argued that his first amendment right was being violated since t gave him the right to print what he had printed. He also argued that the fourteenth amendment said that nothing can take it from him. In his defense Gitlow’s attorney argued that there was no evidence that could prove his pamphlets had any influence on the public.

According to the first amendment congress was not in a position to create any laws that abridges the freedom of speech while the fourteenth amendment accords rights, privileges and immunity to citizens. This was an upright violation of the fourteenth amendment since the state denied him freedom of press or speech. Gitlow’s conviction as upheld by the court was on the basis that the government may suppress or punish any form of speech that suppresses or punishes. The pamphlets were perceived to be encouraging the beliefs that he had on socialism in the country.

Gitlow won the case by 7-2 vote. It was argued that freedom of speech and press was among the fundamental rights of a person and liberties that were protected by the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment (Casebriefs LLC,(2013).The statute prohibiting such activities did not deprive Gitlow his first amendment constitutional right to the freedom of expression. The current statute is not unreasonable or an arbitrary means of the exercising of the states power of the police.

The state has the power to prevent any form of disturbance of peace and regulation of speech that can be deemed inciting to crime even if the threat of the action is not immediate. Therefore the state cannot prohibit speech not unless it presents clearly a danger to the interests of the public.

Relevance of the case

The case was appealed by Gitlow after his conviction. The Supreme Court then ruled in his favor. This was a very huge step when it comes to the incorporation of civil liberties .the precedent had been articulated clearly by the Supreme Court and the case ensured its complete establishment. Until the establishment of the doctrine, the bill of rights was only applicable to the federal law .individual state’s Bill of rights regulated the laws of the particular state (Pearson Education Inc., 2010).

Gitlow extended the first amendment right to the law of the state ensuring the non-existence of power of the oppressive state laws by Federal court system. Therefore the Gitlow v. New York saw the court acknowledging the fact that the first amendment freedom of speech had provisions for the protecting of individuals as well as groups from interference from the government.

The case of Gitlow v. New York dealt with the state government and particularly their ability to uphold civil rights liberties as they have been expressed in the United States Constitution. Because of this case the court established a selective way to incorporate liberties which meant that only liberties that are considered implicit in the ordered liberty concept could be applied to states. The case therefore paved way for the application of Bill of rights to states through the fourteenth amendment.

Complications developing from the case

Freedom of speech and press does not necessarily give someone the absolute right to publish anything or speak without one being held responsible for what might follow the actions. The state therefore has the duty of regulating speech or press so that they can protect the citizens and protect their general welfare. Therefore a clear ruling was difficult to make because of the fact that though Gitlow was free to express himself there should be consequences that he should face incase in the process of expressing himself there are laws that he is violating. In the case he was accused of trying to overthrow the government though what he had printed in his pamphlets. It was a complicated situation since Gitlow was just expressing himself even though through these people could be persuaded to think otherwise of the Government.


Laws.com, (2013). Gitlow v. New York. Retrieved march 14, 2013 from http://kids.laws.com/gitlow-v-new-york

Casebriefs LLC., (2013). Gitlow v. New York. Retrieved march 14, 2013 from http://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/constitutional-law/constitutional-law-keyed-to-chemerinsky/first-amendment-freedom-of-expression/gitlow-v-new-york/

Pearson Education Inc. (2010).civil liberties. Retrieved march 14, 2013 from http://wps.prenhall.com/hss_berman_democracy_4/7/1859/476148.cw/index.html

Digital History. (2013). Gitlow v. New York. Retrieved March 14, 2013 from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=4070

Tangient LLC. (2013). Court Case: Gitlow v. New York 1925.

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