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Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board


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367 U.S. 1 (1961), argued 11–12 Oct. 1960, decided 5 June 1961 by vote of 5 to 4; Frankfurter for the Court, Warren, Black, Douglas, and Brennan in dissent. 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 devices 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 SACB promptly identified the American Communist party as a “communist action organization” and ordered it to register, which the officers of the party refused to do. After eleven years of litigation, including one remand by the Supreme Court to the board because of the possibility that the record was tainted by perjured testimony, the Court finally upheld the registration provisions of the act in Communist Party v. SACB (1961). But it postponed any decision on the constitutionality of the statutory sanctions until they were actually enforced.

When passports were subsequently denied to party members, this action was held to be an unconstitutional violation of the right to travel in Aptheker v. Secretary of State (1964). In Albertson v. SACB (1965) the Court ruled that compulsory registration of party members violated the Fifth Amendment. United States v. Robel (1967) voided the ban on party members working in defense plants. Other provisions of the McCarran Act remained in effect and were the subject of much controversy, but the SACB was allowed to die in 1973 by failure to appropriate funds.

C. Herman Pritchett

Subjects: Law.


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