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The Minneapolis Case —

A Statement by J.T. Farrell

(December 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 49, 6 December 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Following the denial of the U.S. Supreme Court on November 22 to hear the case of the eighteen members of the Socialist Workers Party and Minneapolis Motor Transport Workers Local 544, CIO, James T. Farrell, noted novelist and chairman and the Civil Rights Defense Committee, issued the following statement:

We do not judge men merely by their avowals of faith and good will. Neither do we judge institutions by the descriptions of their authority and functions contained in written constitutions. We judge men and we test institutions by their actions.

The Supreme Court of the United States has given us the material whereby we can test it. When it refused to hear the appeal of the eighteen defendants in the Minneapolis case, it administered a blow to the cause of free speech; it showed itself more than inattentive to the provisions of the very Constitution which it has sworn to uphold.

It is the opinion of serious persons in the labor and liberal movements that the Smith ‘Gag’ Act is in flagrant violation of the Bill of Rights. This case is the most important one which comes under the provisions of that act. The Supreme Court has even refused to hear an appeal which will test the constitutionality of that law. The authority of the court is largely based on the decision of Judge Marshall in the case of Madison vs. Marbury, when he contended that we must have a government of laws rather than of men. Apparently we now have that, and one of these laws is the Smith ‘Gag’ law. According to its provisions, it is possible for a man to be jailed if he publicly quotes the Declaration of Independence or Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

This is Thanksgiving Week. In the motion pictures and newspapers and on the radio we are being told over and over again that we should be thankful for being free. But there is less freedom in this country today than there was last week or in Thanksgiving Week, 1942. We know that this week the Supreme Court of the United States is less of a guarantee of our liberties than many people have believed it to be.

Although the two most illustrious and liberal figures of this Court during the present century, Holmes and Brandeis, promulgated the doctrine of “clear and present danger,” their successors have totally disregarded it. What is the real illustration of this doctrine? It is the Japanese idea of “dangerous thoughts.” Once this idea becomes the law of the land, all thinking becomes a dangerous and potentially criminal activity.

One of the simplest lessons of history is that no government and no court can, in the long run, stop people from thinking. This action of our highest court will not do that which cannot be done; it will only encourage all who want to be free to defend their freedom.

Liberal and labor opinion should now mobilize to prove that it is one hundred per cent more attentive to freedom than is the Supreme Court. We must continue to defend the eighteen victims in this case. We must press our attack against the Smith ‘Gag’ Act.

One of the first free speech cases in history was that of Socrates. When he was on trial for his life, he told his judges that the unexamined life is not worth living.

Let us now reaffirm that noble statement.

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