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Stromberg v. California

Significance

Although the Court did not specifically address the free speech issues raised by Stromberg, the case is important in the development of First Amendment law. It marked the first time that the Supreme Court used the Fourteenth Amendment to stop a state effort to interfere with a right guaranteed by the First Amendment.

In the summer of 1929, 19-year-old Yetta Stromberg, a member of the Young Communist League, was a counsellor at a summer camp for ten- to 15-year-olds. The Pioneer Summer Camp was located in the foothills of the San Bernardino mountains and was a place where the campers learned, among other things, "class-consciousness, the solidarity of the workers and the theory that the workers of the world are of one blood and brothers all." As a part of her duties, Stromberg was responsible for supervising the daily camp ceremony of raising a red flag, which was a camp-made reproduction of the flag of the Soviet Union. Campers would then salute the flag and pledge allegiance to it and to "freedom for the working class."

At the time, California had on its books a so-called "red flag statute," making it a criminal offense to display such a banner, or anything which was "a sign, symbol, or emblem of opposition to organized government or . . . an invitation or stimulus to anarchistic action." Although it was adopted in 1919, the law had never been enforced. During the summer of 1929, however, the Pioneer Camp was targeted by the Better American Federation (BAF), a group dedicated to ridding California of dangerous elements. The BAF convinced the San Bernardino County sheriff to search the camp, where he discovered the red flag and arrested Stromberg and other camp supervisors. The "red flag statute" was used to indict Stromberg, who was convicted of a felony in state court. After a state appellate court upheld her conviction, Stromberg appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming that the California statute violated her First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Stromberg v. California - Significance, Court Overturns Conviction Under "red Flag Law", Anarchistic Legislation: Red Flag Laws