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Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board


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382 U.S. 70 (1965), argued 18 Oct. 1965, decided 15 Nov. 1965 by vote of 8 to o; Brennan for the Court, White not participating. The Internal Security Act, passed over President Truman's veto in 1950 and generally known as the McCarran Act, sought to expose the Communist party in the United States by the device of compulsory registration. The statute ordered communist organizations to register with the attorney general; the Subversive Activities Control Board (SACB) was created to administer the registration process. Registered organizations were required to disclose the names of their officers and the source of their funds. Members of registered organizations were subject to various sanctions, including denial of passports and the right to work in defense plants. The Supreme Court upheld the registration requirements in Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board (1961) but postponed any decision on the constitutionality of the sanctions until they were actually enforced.

As anticipated, the Communist party refused to register. The attorney general then asked the SACB to order individual party members to register. Albertson and others refused, claiming that registration, with resulting penalties, amounted to self-incrimination in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court unanimously agreed. While the statute purportedly granted immunity from prosecution for the act of registration, the Court held that registration could in fact be used as evidence in criminal prosecutions, or to supply investigatory leads.

The SACB was no more successful in other cases. The ban on defense plant employment was struck down in United States v. Robel (1967). With this record of futility, the Nixon Administration allowed the SACB to die in 1973.

C. Herman Pritchett

Subjects: Law.


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