In 1937, the Supreme Court upheld a Portland, Oregon, Communist's right to conduct a peaceful meeting. In overturning Dirk De Jonge's conviction on charges of criminal syndicalism, the Supreme Court for the first time recognized the personal right to assemble peaceably as a First Amendment right protected from state impairment. This paper explores the events leading up to De Jonge's arrest, the cultural backdrop for his conviction, and the legal arguments put before the Court.
The paper concludes that De Jonge and other radicals like him arrested during the longshoremen's strike of 1934 were casualties of Roosevelt's New Deal economic measures. Fortified by Roosevelt and the NIRA, workers organized and walked picket lines to win concessions from employers. But "agitators" like De Jonge were easy targets for government and business leaders seeking to smear organized labor with the taint of communism. It was anti-Red hysteria, not what he advocated the night of July 27, 1934, that resulted in De Jonge's arrest, indictment, conviction and seven-year prison sentence.
Yet it was a Supreme Court, three years removed from the violence and economic strife of the 1934 labor strikes, that found repugnant the notion that someone, even a Communist, could be arrested for attending an orderly meeting called for a lawful discussion of the day's issues. Urged by ACLU attorney Osmund Fraenkel, the Court found that the right to peaceably assemble was equal to the freedoms of speech and press in the operations of a democratic nation.