American Communications Association v. Douds

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339 U.S. 382 (1950), argued 10–11 Oct. 1949, decided 8 May 1950 by vote of 5 to 1; Vinson for the Court, Frankfurter concurring in part, Jackson concurring and dissenting, Black in dissent; Douglas, Clark, and Minton not participating. This case involved the constitutionality of cold war-era anticommunist legislation. The Supreme Court upheld section 9(h) of the Taft-Hartley Act (1947), which required officers of labor unions to sign affidavits indicating that they were not Communist party members or supporters and did not believe in unlawful overthrow of the U.S. government. Unions whose officers did not sign affidavits were unable to seek relief before the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices.

The Court did not rest its judgment on a threat to national security, but on a threat to interstate commerce. The majority found that the statute fell within the broad scope of Congress's commerce power because the Communist party could reasonably be expected to engage in political strikes that were disruptive of the national economy. The Court recognized that the statute had a chilling effect on political rights protected by the First Amendment. Nevertheless, it ruled that the First Amendment was not violated because that statute protected the public from harmful conduct—political strikes—not harmful ideas. The Court then applied the clear and present danger test as a simple balancing test and concluded that Congress's interest in protecting the nation from political strikes outweighed the burden the act placed on the rights of union members.

Although Douds has not been specifically overturned, it is dubious authority. The statute replacing section 9(h) was struck down by the court in United States v. Brown (1965).

Mary L. Dudziak

Subjects: Law.

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