Baggett v. Bullitt, 220

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation12 L.Ed.2d 377,377 U.S. 360,84 S.Ct. 1316
Docket NumberNo. 220,220
PartiesLawrence W. BAGGETT et al., Appellants, v. Dorothy BULLITT et al
Decision Date01 June 1964

Arval A. Morris and Kenneth A. MacDonald, Seattle, Wash., for appellants.

Herbert H. Fuller, Seattle, Wash., for appellees.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellants, approximately 64 in number, are members of the faculty, staff and student body of the University of Washington who brought this class action asking for a judgment declaring unconstitutional two Washington statutes requiring the execution of two different oaths by state employees and for an injunction against the enforcement of these statutes by appellees, the President of the University, members of the Washington State Board of Regents and the State Attorney General.

The statutes under attack are Chapter 377, Laws of 1955, and Chapter 103, Laws of 1931, both of which require employees of the State of Washington to take the oaths prescribed in the statutes as a condition of their employment. The 1931 legislation applies only to teachers, who, upon applying for a license to teach or renewing an existing contract, are required to subscribe to the following:

'I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the constitution and laws of the United States of America and of the State of Washington, and will by precept and example promote respect for the flag and the institutions of the United States of America and the State of Washington, reverence for law and order and undivided allegiance to the government of the United States.' Wash.Laws 1931, c. 103.

The oath requirements of the 1955 Act, Wash.Laws 1955, c. 377, applicable to all state employees, incorporate various provisions of the Washington Subversive Activities Act of 1951, which provides generally that '(n)o subversive person, as defined in this act, shall be eligible for employment in, or appointment to any office, or any position of trust or profit in the government, or in the administration of the business, of this state, or of any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of this state.' Wash.Rev.Code § 9.81.060. The term 'subversive person' is defined as follows:

"Subversive person' means any person who commits, attempts to commit, or aids in the commission, or advocates, abets, advises or teaches by any means any person to commit, attempt to commit, or aid in the commission of any act intended to overthrow, destroy or alter, or to assist in the overthrow, destruction or alteration of, the constitutional form of the government of the United States, or of the state of Washington, or any political subdivision of either of them by revolution, force, or violence; or who with knowledge that the organization is an organization as described in subsections (2) and (3) hereof, becomes or remains a member of a subversive organization or a foreign subversive organization.' Wash.Rev.Code § 9.81.010(5).

The Act goes on to define at similar length and in similar terms 'subversive organization' and 'foreign subversive organization' and to declare the Communist Party a sub- versive organization and membership therein a subversive activity.1

On May 28, 1962, some four months after this Court's dismissal of the appeal in Nostrand v. Little, 368 U.S. 436, 82 S.Ct. 464, 7 L.Ed.2d 426, also a challenge to the 1955 oath,2 the University President, acting pursuant to directions of the Board of Regents, issued a memorandum to all University employees notifying them that they would be required to take an oath. Oath Form A3 requires all teaching per- sonnel to swear to the oath of allegiance set out above, to aver that they have read, are familiar with and understand the provisions defining 'subversive person' in the Subversive Activities Act of 1951 and to disclaim being a subversive person and membership in the Communist Party or any other subversive or foreign subversive organization. Oath Form B 4 requires other state employees to subscribe to all of the above provisions except the 1931 oath. Both forms provide that the oath and statements pertinent thereto are made subject to the penalties of perjury.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281, 2284, a three-judge District Court was convened and a trial was had. That court determined that the 1955 oath and underlying statutory provisions did not infringe upon any First and Fourteenth Amendment freedoms and were not unduly vague. In respect to the claims that the 1931 oath was unconstitutionally vague on its face, the court held that although the challenge raised a substantial constitutional issue, adjudication was not proper in the absence of proceedings in the state courts which might resolve or avoid the constitutional issue. The action was dismissed. 215 F.Supp. 439. We noted probable jurisdiction because of the public importance of this type of legislation and the recurring serious constitutional questions which it presents. 375 U.S. 808, 84 S.Ct. 60, 11 L.Ed.2d 46. We reverse.


Appellants contend in this Court that the oath requirements and the statutory provisions on which they are based are invalid on their face because their language is unduly vague, uncertain and broad. We agree with this contention and therefore, without reaching the numerous other contentions pressed upon us, confine our considerations to that particular question.5

In Cramp v. Board of Public Instruction, 368 U.S. 278, 82 S.Ct. 275, 7 L.Ed.2d 285, the Court invalidated an oath requiring teachers and other employees of the State to swear that they had never lent their 'aid, support, advice, counsel, or influence to the Communist Party' because the oath was lacking in 'terms susceptible of objective measurement' and failed to inform as to what the State commanded or forbade. The statute therefore fell within the compass of those decisions of the Court holding that a law forbidding or requiring conduct in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application violates due process of law. Connally v. General Construction Co., 269 U.S. 385, 46 S.Ct. 126, 70 L.Ed. 322; Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U.S. 451, 59 S.Ct. 618, 83 L.Ed. 888; Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495, 7 S.Ct. 777, 96 L.Ed. 1098; United States v. Cardiff, 344 U.S. 174, 73 S.Ct. 189, 97 L.Ed. 200; Champlin Refining Co. v. Corporation Comm. of Oklahoma, 286 U.S. 210, 52 S.Ct. 559, 76 L.Ed. 1062.

The oath required by the 1955 statute suffers from similar infirmities. A teacher must swear that he is not a subversive person: that he is not one who commits an act or who advises, teaches, abets or advocates by any means another person to commit or aid in the commission of any act intended to overthrow or alter, or to assist the overthrow or alteration, of the constitutional form of government by revolution, force or violence. A subversive organization is defined as one which engages in or assists activities intended to alter or overthrow the Government by force or violence or which has as a purpose the commission of such acts. The Communist Party is declared in the statute to be a subversive organization, that is, i is presumed that the Party does and will engage in activities intended to overthrow the Government.6 Persons required to swear they under- stand this oath may quite reasonably conclude that any person who aids the Communist Party or teaches or advises known members of the Party is a subversive person because such teaching or advice may now or at some future date aid the activities of the Party. Teaching and advising are clearly acts, and one cannot confidently assert that his counsel, aid, influence or support which adds to the resources, rights and knowledge of the Communist Party or its members does not aid the Party in its activities, activities which the statute tells us are all in furtherance of the stated purpose of overthrowing the Government by revolution, force, or violence. The questions put by the Court in Cramp may with equal force be asked here. Does the statute reach endorsement or support for Communist candidates for office? Does it reach a lawyer who represents the Communist Party or its members or a journalist who defends constitutional rights of the Communist Party or its members or anyone who supports any cause which is likewise supported by Communists or the Communist Party? The susceptibility of the statutory language to require forswearing of an undefined variety of 'guiltless knowing behavior' is what the Court condemned in Cramp. This statute, like the one at issue in Cramp, is unconstitutionally vague.7

The Washington statute suffers from additional difficulties on vagueness grounds. A person is subversive not only if he himself commits the specified acts but if he abets or advises another in aiding a third person to commit an act which will assist yet a fourth person in the overthrow or alteration of constitutional government. The Washington Supreme Court has said that knowledge is to be read into every provision and we accept this construction. Nostrand v. Balmer, 53 Wash.2d 460, 483—484, 335 P.2d 10, 24; Nostrand v. Little, 58 Wash.2d 111, 123—124, 361 P.2d 551, 559. But what is it that the Washington professor must 'know'? Must he know that his aid or teaching will be used by another and that the person aided has the requisite guilty intent or is it sufficient that he knows that his aid or teaching would or might be useful to others in the commission of acts intended to overthrow the Government? Is it subversive activity, for example, to attend and participate in international conventions of mathematicians and exchange views with scholars from Communist countries? What about the editor of a scholarly journal who analyzes and criticizes the manuscripts of Communist scholars submitted for publication? Is selecting outstanding scholars from Communist countries as visiting professors and advising, teaching, or...

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