Falbovs v. United States

Decision Date03 January 1944
Docket NumberNo. 73,73
Citation320 U.S. 549,64 S.Ct. 346,88 L.Ed. 305
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Hayden Covington, of Brooklyn, N.Y., for petitioner.

Mr. Charles Fahy, Sol. Gen., of Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was indicted on November 12, 1942, in a federal District Court in Pennsylvania for knowingly failing to perform a duty required of him under the Selec- tive Training and Service Act of 1940.1 The particular charge was that, after his local board had classified him as a conscientious objector, he wilfully failed to obey the board's order to report for assignment to work of national importance.2 Admitting that his refusal to obey the order was wilful, petitioner defended his conduct on the ground that he was entitled to a statutory exemption from all forms of national service, since the facts he had presented to the board showed that he was a 'regular or duly ordained' minister.3 The Act, he argued, does not make it a crime to refuse to obey an order to report for service if that order is based upon an erroneous classification, because there is no 'duty' to comply with a mistaken order. This defense was seasonably urged but the District Court declined to recognize it, expressing the view that, 'the Board has the decision of whether or not this man is to be listed as he claims he should be;' and at the conclusion of the trial the jury was charged that, 'if you find from the facts that he failed to report—and there is no evidence to the contrary * * *—it would be your duty to find him guilty.' The result of the trial was a conviction and sentence to imprisonment for five years.

On appeal petitioner urged that the District Court had erred in refusing to permit a trial de novo on the merits of his claimed exemption. In the alternative, he argued that at least the Court should have reviewed the classification order to ascertain whether the local board had been 'prejudicial, unfair, and arbitrary' in that it had failed to admit certain evidence which he offered, had acted on the basis of an antipathy to the religious sect of which he is a member, and had refused to classify him as a minister against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court per curiam, 135 F.2d 464. We granted certiorari because of the importance of the problems involved relating to administration of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, upon which problems the Circuit Courts of Appeal have not expressed uniform views.4

When the Selective Service and Training Act was passed in September, 1940, most of the world was at war. The preamble of the Act declared it 'imperative to increase and train the personnel of the armed forces of the United States.' The danger of attack by our present enemies, if not imminent, was real, as subsequent events have grimly demonstrated. The Congress was faced with the urgent necessity of integrating all the nation's people and forces for national defense. That dire consequences might flow from apathy and delay was well understood. Accordingly the Act was passed to mobilize national manpower with the speed which that necessity and understanding required.

The mobilization system which Congress established by the Act is designed to operate as one continuous process for the selection of men for national service. Under the system, different agencies are entrusted with different functions but the work of each is integrated with that of the others. Selection of registrants for service, and deferments or exemptions from service, are to be effected within the framework of this machinery as implemented by rules and regulations prescribed by the President.5 The selective service process begins with registration with a local board composed of local citizens. The registrant then supplies certain information on a questionnaire furnished by the board. On the basis of that information and, where appropriate, a physical examination, the board classifies him in accordance with standards contained in the Act and the Selective Service Regulations. It then notifies him of his classification The registrant may contest his classification by a personal appearance before the local board, and if that board refuses to alter the classification, by carrying his case to a board of appeal,6 and thence, in certain circumstances, to the President.

Only after he has exhausted this procedure is a protesting registrant ordered to report for service. If he has been classified for military service, his local board orders him to report for induction into the armed forces. If he has been classified a conscientious objector opposed to noncombatant military service, as was petitioner, he ultimately is ordered by the local board to report for work of national importance. In each case the registrant is under the same obligation to obey the order. But in neither case is the order to report the equivalent of acceptance for service. Completion of the functions of the local boards and appellate agencies, important as are these functions, is not the end of the selective service process. The selectee may still be rejected at the induction center and the conscientious objector who is opposed to noncombatant duty may be rejected at the civilian public service camp.7 The connected series of steps into the national service which begins with registration with the local board does not end until the registrant is accepted by the army, navy, or civilian public service camp. Thus a board order to report is no more than a necessary intermediate step in a united and continuous process designed to raise an army speedily and efficiently.

In this process the local board is charged in the first instance with the duty to make the classification of registrants which Congress in its complete discretion8 saw fit to authorize. Even if there were, as the petitioner argues, a constitutional requirement that judicial review must be available to test the validity of the decision of the local board, it is certain that Congress was not required to provide for judicial intervention before final acceptance of an individual for national service. The narrow question therefore presented by this case is whether Congress has authorized judicial review of the propriety of a board's classification in a criminal prosecution for wilful violation of an order directing a registrant to report for the last step in the selective process.

We think it has not. The Act nowhere explicitly provides for such review and we have found nothing in its legislative history which indicates an intention to afford it. The circumstances under which the Act was adopted lend no support to a view which would allow litigious interruption of the process of selection which Congress created. To meet the need which it felt for mobilizing national manpower in the shortest practicable period, Congress established a machinery which it deemed efficient for inducting great numbers of men into the armed forces. Careful provision was made for fair administration of the Act's policies within the framework of the selective service process. But Congress apparently regarded 'a prompt and unhesitating obedience to orders' issued in that process 'indispensable to the complete attainment of the object' of national defense. Martin v. Mott, 12 Wheat. 19, 30, 25 U.S. 19, 30, 6 L.Ed. 537. Surely if Congress had intended to authorize interference with that process by intermediate challenges of orders to report, it would have said so.

Against this background the complete absence of any provision for such challenges in the very section providing for prosecution of violations in the civil courts permits no other inference than that Congress did not intend they could be made. The instant case offers a striking example of the consequences of any other view. Petitioner, 25 years of age, unmarried, and apparently in good health, registered with his local board on October 16, 1940. He claimed exemption August 23, 1941. Consideration of his claim by the local board and the board of appeal delayed his classification, so that his final order to report was not issued until September 2, 1942. Today, one year and four months after this order, he is still litigating the question.


Mr. Justice RUTLEDGE, concurring.

I concur in the result and in the opinion of the Court except in one respect. Petitioner claims the local board's order of classification was invalid because that board refused to classify petitioner as a minister on the basis of an antipathy to the religious sect of which he is a member. And, if the question were open, the record discloses that some evidence tendered to sustain this charge was excluded in the trial court. But petitioner has made no such charge concerning the action of the appeal board which reviewed and affirmed the local board's order. And there is nothing to show that the appeal board acted otherwise than according to law. If therefore the local board's order was invalid originally for the reason claimed, as to which I express no opinion, whatever defect may have existed was cured by the appeal board's action. Apart from some challenge upon constitutional grounds, I have no doubt that Congress could and did exclude judicial review of Selective Service orders like that in question. Accordingly I agree that the conviction must be sustained.

Mr. Justice MURPHY, dissenting.

This case presents another aspect of the perplexing problem of reconciling basic principles of justice with mili- tary needs in wartime. Individual rights have been recognized by our jurisprudence only after long and costly struggles. They should not be struck down by anything less than the gravest necessity. We assent to their temporary suspension only to the extent that they constitute a clear and present danger...

To continue reading

Request your trial
285 cases
  • Murray v. Vaughn
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Rhode Island
    • June 6, 1969
    ...for purposes of providing background to the issue in this case to consider only those cases running from Falbo v. United States, 320 U.S. 549, 64 S.Ct. 346, 88 L.Ed. 305 (1944) to the present. In Falbo, the Court, construing the Selective Service Act of 1940 which contained no statutory sta......
  • Moore v. City of East Cleveland, Ohio
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • May 31, 1977
    ...S.Ct. 1565, 29 L.Ed.2d 47 (1971); Yakus v. United States, 321 U.S. 414, 64 S.Ct. 660, 88 L.Ed. 834 (1944); Falbo v. United States, 320 U.S. 549, 64 S.Ct. 346, 88 L.Ed. 305 (1944); see McKart v. United States, 395 U.S. 185, 89 S.Ct. 1657, 23 L.Ed.2d 194 (1969). There is far less reason to ta......
  • Estep v. United States Smith v. Same
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • February 4, 1946
    ...S. Shapiro, of Washington, D.C., for respondent. Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court. In Falbo v. United States, 320 U.S. 549, 64 S.Ct. 346, 88 L.Ed. 305, we held that in a criminal prosecution under § 11 of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, 54 Stat. 894, 50......
  • United States v. United Mine Workers of America Same v. Lewis, John United Mine Workers of America v. United States Lewis, John v. Same United Mine Workers of America v. Same
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • March 6, 1947
    ...page 460, 64 S.Ct. 660, 684, 88 L.Ed. 834. See also United States v. Ruzicka, 329 U.S. 287, 67 S.Ct. 207; Falbo v. United States, 320 U.S. 549, 64 S.Ct. 346, 88 L.Ed. 305; Estep v. United States, 327 U.S. 114, 66 S.Ct. 423; Gibson v. United States, 329 U.S. 338, 67 S.Ct. 301. That is very d......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Constitutional conversations and new religious movements: a comparative case study.
    • United States
    • Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law Vol. 38 No. 3, May 2005
    • May 1, 2005
    ...spent distributing Witness literature with their parents). (127.) See Estep v. United States, 327 U.S. 114 (1946); Falbo v. United States, 320 U.S. 549, 553-55. In the former case, Justice Black stated he would have voided the action on constitutional grounds if the statutory ones had not (......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT