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California Syndicalism Statute Not an Act of Congress; Appeals Court Injunction Reversed

The U.S. Supreme Court determined that California Criminal Syndicalism statute stands short of an Act of Congress.

John Harris was indicted in a California state court of violating California’s Criminal Syndicalism statute (see Cal. Penal code § 11400 and 11401). Criminal Syndicalism is when a person promulgates any type of terrorism as a means for change in industrial ownership or control, or for effecting any political change.

Harris filed for injunctive relief under 42 USC § 1983, asking the district court to enjoin the state from prosecuting him because it denied him his rights of free speech and press guaranteed by the United States First and Fourteenth Amendments. Socialist activists Jim Dan and Diane Hirsch intervened. Their claim was if Harris was prosecuted it would inhibit the Progressive Labor Party for advocating their belief of replacing capitalism with socialism. Farrell Broslawky, a political science and history professor, also intervened. His contention was that he was uncertain if he could teach about the doctrines of Karl Marx or read from the Communist Manifesto. All claimed the prosecution would cause irreparable harm.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court convened a three judge panel pursuant to 28 USC § 2284 and determined the California law void for vagueness and overbreadth in violation of USC First and Fourteenth Amendments. The court enjoined the state for further prosecution. The state appealed.

The U.S. Supreme Court determined that the three individuals who intervened would not suffer harm as a result of Harris’ prosecution, and that absent an act of Congress, there were no equitable principles to justify intervention by the Court.

The injunctive relief was reversed. The case was remanded to the district court. See: Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746 (1971) and Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 756 (1971).

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