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Scales v. United States

The Smith Act

The Smith Act, properly known as the Alien Registration Act, became famous for its use during the anti-Communist campaigns of the late 1940s and 1950s. Yet like the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), another fixture of the era, the Smith Act began life at a time when fascism and Nazism were viable systems, and it was designed to counteract these threats as much as Communism.

The Smith Act forbade the printing or display of materials that called for the overthrow of the federal government, and outlawed teaching or organizing of activities aimed toward overthrow. Likewise it made it illegal to belong to an organization which supported such overthrow. The first major prosecution of Communists under the Smith Act occurred in 1943, when a group that supported Leon Trotsky (a leader of the Russian Revolution murdered by Stalin in 1940) was convicted in Minneapolis; but the full-scale use of the act against Communists began in the late 1940s. A number of Supreme Court rulings during the 1950s and early 1960s, including Scales, greatly restricted the scope of the Smith Act.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Scales v. United States - Significance, Supreme Court Reverses Course On Communism, The Smith Act