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Robel, United States v.


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389 U.S. 258 (1967), argued 14 Nov. 1966, reargued 9 Oct. 1967, decided 11 Dec. 1967 by vote of 6 to 2; Warren for the Court, White and Harlan in dissent; Marshall not participating. The Court in this case, for only the second time in history, struck down an act of Congress as an infringement of the First Amendment. In Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board (1961), the Court upheld an order of the Subversive Activities Control Board requiring the Communist party to register as a communistaction organization under the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950. Robel, a member of the party, was employed at a shipyard that had been officially designated as a defense facility. He was indicted for unlawfully and willfully engaging in employment at the shipyard with knowledge of the order against the party and notice of the shipyard's designation as a defense facility.

The Court held that the relevant section of the act was an unconstitutional abridgment of the right of association protected by the First Amendment. The statute established guilt by association without proof that defendant's association posed a threat to national defense, which includes values and ideals enshrined in the Constitution. The statute was overbroad for proscribing activities that can be punished and membership that cannot be proscribed. The statute disregarded the fact that a person may be a passive or an active member of a registered organization and may be unaware of the party's unlawful aims or may disagree with those aims; or the member may occupy a nonsensitive position in a defense facility.

Milton R. Konvitz

Subjects: Law.


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