Every student of constitutional law is familiar with the effort of the United States government to suppress dissent during World War I. The decisions in such landmark cases as Masses, Schenk, Debs & Abrams are the grist of every major constitutional law casebook & every major historical treatment of the First Amendment, as well they should be. Also familiar are the constitutional controversies of the Cold War. The Supreme Court’s decisions in Dennis and Yates are required reading for anyone even remotely interested in free expression. But what of the period in-between? What of World War II? If one examines the leading constitutional law casebooks, it appears that this era was a First Amendment cipher. Presumably, nothing happened. As it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth.
After the excesses of World War I and the postwar Red Scare, an increasingly civil libertarian view of free expression began to emerge. Through the 1920s and ’30s, many Americans came to realize that war protesters and other dissidents of that earlier era had not been as menacing as the Wilson administration had led them to believe. To an ever greater extent, Americans began to discuss the protection of civil liberties as a public responsibility. This development was reflected in new attitudes within the government, the academy, the media, and the courts.