344 U.S. 183 (1952), 14, Wieman v. Updegraff

Docket Nº:No. 14
Citation:344 U.S. 183, 73 S.Ct. 215, 97 L.Ed. 216
Party Name:Wieman v. Updegraff
Case Date:December 15, 1952
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 183

344 U.S. 183 (1952)

73 S.Ct. 215, 97 L.Ed. 216

Wieman

v.

Updegraff

No. 14

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 15, 1952

Argued October 16, 1952

APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF OKLAHOMA

Syllabus

Oklahoma Stat.Ann., 1950, Tit. 51, §§37.1-37.8 (1952 Supp.), requires each state officer and employee, as a condition of his employment, to take a "loyalty oath," stating, inter alia, that he is not, and has not been for the preceding five years, a member of any organization listed by the Attorney General of the United States as "communist front" or "subversive." As construed by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, it excludes persons from state employment solely on the basis of membership in such organizations, regardless of their knowledge concerning the activities and purposes of the organizations to which they had belonged.

Held: As thus construed, the Act violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 184-192.

(a) The Due Process Clause does not permit a state, in attempting to bar disloyal persons from its employment on the basis of organizational membership, to classify innocent with knowing association. Adler v. Board of Education, 342 U.S. 485; Gerende v. Board of Supervisors, 341 U.S. 56; and Garner v. Board of Public Works, 341 U.S. 716, distinguished. Pp. 188-191.

(b) The protection of the Due Process Clause extends to a public servant whose exclusion pursuant to a statue is patently arbitrary or discriminatory. Adler v. Board of Education, 342 U.S. 485, and United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, distinguished. Pp. 191-192.

205 Okla. 301, 237 P.2d 131, reversed.

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma affirmed the judgment of a trial court sustaining the constitutionality of Okla.Stat.Ann., 1950, Tit. 51, §§ 37.1-37.8 (1952 Supp.), and enjoining payment of salaries to state employees who had refused to subscribe to the "loyalty oath" required by that Act. 205 Okla. 301, 237 P.2d 131. On appeal to this Court, reversed, p. 192.

Page 184

CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an appeal from a decision of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma upholding the validity of a loyalty oath1 prescribed by Oklahoma statute for all state officers and

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employees. Okl.Stat.1951, Tit. 51, §§ 37.1-37.8. Appellants, employed by the state as members of the faculty and staff of Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College, failed, within the thirty days permitted, to take the oath required by the Act. Appellee Updegraff, as a citizen and taxpayer, thereupon brought this suit in the District Court of Oklahoma County to enjoin the necessary state officials from paying further compensation to employees who had not subscribed to the oath. The appellants, who were permitted to intervene, attacked the validity of the Act on the grounds, among others, that it was a bill of attainder; an ex post facto law; impaired the obligation of their contracts with the State, and violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. They also sought a mandatory injunction directing the state officers to pay

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their salaries regardless of their failure to take the oath. Their objections centered largely on the following clauses of the oath:

. . . That I am not affiliated directly or indirectly . . . with any foreign political agency, party, organization or Government, or with any agency, party, organization, association, or group whatever which has been officially determined by the United States Attorney General or other authorized agency of the United States to be a communist front or subversive organization; . . . that I will take up arms in the defense of the United States in time of War, or National Emergency, if necessary; that within the five (5) years immediately preceding the taking of this oath (or affirmation) I have not been a member of . . . any agency, party, organization, association, or group whatever which has been officially determined by the United States Attorney General or other authorized public agency of the United States to be a communist front or subversive organization. . . .

The court upheld the Act and enjoined the state officers from making further salary payments to appellants. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma affirmed sub nom. Board of Regents v. Updegraff, (1951).2 We noted probable jurisdiction because of the public importance of this type of legislation and [73 S.Ct. 217] the recurring serious constitutional questions which it presents.

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The District Court of Oklahoma County, in holding the Act valid, concluded that the appellants were compelled to take the oath as written; that the appellants

and each of them, did not take and subscribe to the oath as provided in Section 2 of the Act and willfully refused to take that oath and by reason thereof the Board of Regents is enjoined from paying them, and their employment is terminated.

In affirming, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma held that the phrase of the oath

any foreign political agency, party, organization or Government, or with any agency, party, organization, association, or group whatever which has been officially determined by the United States Attorney General or other authorized agency of the United States to be a communist front or subversive organization

actually

refers to a list or lists of such organizations in existence at the time of the passage of the act which had been prepared by the Attorney General [of the United States] under Governmental directive. Such list or lists are, in effect, made a part of the oath by reference.

On this point, the opinion continues:

There is no requirement in the act that an oath be taken of nonmembership in organizations not on the list of the Attorney General of the United States at the time of the passage of this act.

We read this part of the highest state court's decision as limiting the organizations proscribed by the Act to those designated on the list or lists of the Attorney General which had been issued prior to the effective date of the Act. Although this interpretation discarded clear language of the oath as surplusage, the court denied the appellants' petition for rehearing, which included a plea that refusal of the court to permit appellants to take the oath as so interpreted was violative of due process.

The purpose of the Act, we are told, "was to make loyalty a qualification to hold public office or be employed by the State." 205 Okl. at page 305, 237 P.2d at page 136.

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During periods of international stress, the extent of legislation with such objectives accentuates our traditional concern about the relation of government to the individual in a free society. The perennial problem of defining that relationship becomes acute when disloyalty is screened by ideological patterns and techniques of disguise that make it difficult to identify. Democratic government is not powerless to meet this threat, but it must do so without infringing the freedoms that are the ultimate values of all democratic living. In the adoption of such means as it believes effective, the legislature is therefore confronted with the problem of balancing its interest in national security with the often conflicting constitutional rights of the individual.

In a series of cases coming here in recent years, we have had occasion to consider legislation aimed at safeguarding the public service from disloyalty. Garner v. Board of Public...

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