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The Court's decision in Schenck v. United States, (1919) placed a limitation (called an exception) on constitutional First Amendment rights to freedom of speech or expression.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., writing the opinion of the Court, held that First Amendment protection did not extend to circumstances where exercise of speech created a "clear and present danger." This is also the case that used the example of "shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater."

The exact quote is: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."

Holmes point was that there is no absolute right of free speech, because there are always circumstances in which unregulated expression can create problematic or dangerous situations. The need for safeguarding the public (or, in the case of Schenck, the government) against certain forms of speech creates exceptions that are not protected by the First Amendment. "Falsely shouting fire in a theatre" is an example illustrating Holmes' point.

Another quote from Schenck that further clarifies the Court's position: "Words which, ordinarily and in many places, would be within the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment may become subject to prohibition when of such a nature and used in such circumstances a to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils which Congress has a right to prevent. The character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done."

Holmes concluded the intent of the pamphlet Charles Schenck distributed was to influence drafted men to resist enlistment, which would obstruct the government's war effort. Holmes acknowledged the circular would have been protected under the First Amendment during peace time, but that the United States' engagement with Germany in war changed the context.

Case Citation:

Schenck v. United States, 249 US 47 (1919)

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Q: What was Oliver Wendell Holmes' opinion in Schenck v US?
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What important case did Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes write the majorty opinion?

He was noted for his "clear and present danger" majority opinion in the 1919 case of Schenck v. United States.For more information on Schenck v. United States, (1919), see Related Questions, below.


Who is Oliver Wendell Holmes' wife?

Oliver Wendell Holmes' wife was Amelia Lee Jackson. He married her in 1840.


Who was Chief Justice during Schenck v. United States?

Chief Justice Edward Douglas WhiteCase Citation:Schenck v. United States, 249 US 47 (1919)For more information, see Related Questions, below.


Who said Free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting five in a theater and causing a panic?

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.


What did the 'clear and present danger' test that resulted from the Supreme Court decision in Schenck v. US place limits on?

The US Supreme Court's decision in Schenck v. United States, 249 US 47 (1919) placed a limitation (called an exception) on constitutional First Amendment rights to freedom of speech or expression. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., writing the opinion of the Court, held that First Amendment protection did not extend to circumstances where exercise of speech created a "clear and present danger." This is also the case that used the example of "shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater."A similar case later that year, Abrams v. United States,250 US 616 (1919) upheld the decision, with the notable exception that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who wrote the majority opinion in Schenck, actually joined Justice Brandeis in dissent on Abrams.These early cases that imposed rigid restrictions on free speech, ostensibly to preserve law and order, were overturned by Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 US 444 (1969), which held that the government cannot restrict inflammatory speech unless its intention is to incite, or is likely to incite, "imminent lawless action."Case Citation:Schenck v. United States, 249 US 47 (1919)For more information on Schenck v. United States, see Related Questions, below.

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What important case did Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes write the majorty opinion?

He was noted for his "clear and present danger" majority opinion in the 1919 case of Schenck v. United States.For more information on Schenck v. United States, (1919), see Related Questions, below.


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Oliver Wendell Holmes' wife was Amelia Lee Jackson. He married her in 1840.


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Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. was born on August 29, 1809.


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Oliver Wendell Holmes died on March 6th, 1935, two days short of his 94th birthday.


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