Revisiting Masses v. Patten (1917)


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Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten (1917) might be the most important free speech case you’ve never heard of.

In his now largely forgotten decision in the case, then Southern District of New York Judge Learned Hand rejected the United States postmaster general’s arguments for refusing to mail Masses magazine. The magazine was staunchly opposed to World War I and the compulsory military draft. The postmaster general argued that the recently passed Espionage Act gave him the authority to deny the magazine’s circulation.

On this episode of So to Speak, we revisit Masses v. Patten with University of Washington School of Law Scholar Ronald Collins and feature a reargument of the case (min. 40) at the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. One hundred years ago this month, that same court reversed Judge Hand’s decision.

The case was reargued in front of a panel of Second Circuit judges on Nov. 6, with former Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan appearing for Masses Publishing Company and First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams appearing for Postmaster Patten.

VIDEO of reargument: Follow us on Twitter: Like us on Facebook: Email us: Call in a question: 215-315-0100

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