Peters v. Hobby

Decision Date19 April 1955
Docket NumberNo. 376,376
Citation99 L.Ed. 1129,349 U.S. 331,75 S.Ct. 790
PartiesJohn P. PETERS, Petitioner, v. Oveta Culp HOBBY et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[DLQ!]] Decided June 6, 1955.

[Syllabus from pages 331-332 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Thurman Arnold, Paul A. Porter, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Warren E. Burger, Asst. Atty. Gen., for respondent.

Mr. Chief Justice WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This action was instituted by petitioner in the District Court for the District of Columbia. The principal relief sought is a declaration that petitioner's removal and debarment from federal employment were invalid. Prior to trial, the District Court granted the respondents' motion for judgment on the pleadings. The judgment was affirmed, one judge dissenting, by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, relying on its decision in Bailey v. Richardson, 86 U.S.App.D.C. 248, 182 F.2d 46, sustained here by an equally divided vote, 341 U.S. 918, 71 S.Ct. 669, 95 L.Ed. 1352. We granted certiorari, 348 U.S. 882, 75 S.Ct. 124, because the case appeared to present the same constitutional question left unresolved by this Court's action in Bailey v. Richardson, supra.


The basic facts are undisputed. Petitioner is a professor of medicine, specializing in the study of metabolism, at Yale University. For several years prior to 1953, because of his eminence in the field of medical science, he was employed as a Special Consultant in the United States Public Health Service of the Federal Security Agency. On April 10, 1953, the functions of the Federal Security Agency were transferred to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, headed by respondent Hobby. Petitioner's duties required his presence in Washington from four to ten days each year, when called upon by the Surgeon General, to render advice concerning proposals to grant federal assistance to various medical research institutions. This work was not of a confidential or sensitive character and did not entail access to classified material. Petitioner was compensated at a specified per diem rate for days actually worked. At the time of his removal, petitioner was employed under an appointment expiring on December 31, 1953.

On March 21, 1947, Executive Order 9835 was issued by the President.1 It provided that the head of each department and agency in the Executive Branch of the Government 'shall be personally responsible for an effective program to assure that disloyal civilian officers or employees are not retained in employment in his department or agency.' Toward that end, the Order directed the establishment within each department or agency of one or more loyalty boards 'for the purpose of hearing loyalty cases arising within such department or agency and making recommendations with respect to the removal of any officer or employee * * * on grounds relating to loyalty * * *.' The order also provided for the establishment of a central Loyalty Review Board in the Civil Service Commission. The Board, in addition to various supervisory functions, was authorized 'to review cases involving persons recommended for dismissal * * * by the loyalty board of any department or agency * * *.' The standard for removal prescribed by the Order was whether, 'on all the evidence, reasonable grounds exist for belief that the person involved is disloyal to the Government of the United States.' This standard was amended on April 28, 1951.2 As amended, the standard to be applied was whether, "on all the evidence, there is a reasonable doubt as to the loyalty of the person involved to the Government of the United States."

In January 1949, Joseph E. McElvain, Chairman of the Board of Inquiry on Employee Loyalty of the Federal Security Agency, notified petitioner that derogatory information relating to his loyalty had been received. Accompanying McElvain's letter was a detailed inter- rogatory relating to petitioner's associations and affiliations. Petitioner promptly completed the form and returned it. Shortly thereafter, McElvain advised petitioner that the Agency Board had determined that no reasonable grounds existed for belief that petitioner was disloyal.

In May 1951, following the amendment of the removal standard prescribed by Executive Order 9835, the Executive Seccretary of the Loyalty Review Board advised McElvain that petitioner's case should be reopened and readjudicated pursuant to the amended standard. Three months later, the Acting Chairman of the Loyalty Review Board informed McElvain that a panel of the Loyalty Review Board had considered petitioner's case and had recommended that it be remanded to the Agency Board for a hearing. Acting on the Loyalty Review Board's recommendation, McElvain sent petitioner a letter of charges. Sixteen charges were specified, relating to alleged membership in the Communist Party, sponsorship of certain petitions, affiliation with various organizations, and alleged association with Communists and Communist sympathizers. In his reply, made under oath, petitioner denied that he had ever been a member of the Communist Party and set forth information concerning the other charges.

On April 1 and 2, 1952, the Agency Board conducted a hearing on petitioner's case in New Haven, Connecticut. The sources of the information as to the facts bearing on the charges were not identified or made available to petitioner's counsel for cross-examination. The identity of one or more of the informants furnishing such information, but not of all the informants, was known to the Board. The only evidence adduced at the hearing was presented by petitioner. He testified under oath that he had never been a member of the Communist Party and also testified concerning the other charges against him. He did not refuse to answer any question directed to him. Petitioner's testimony was supported by the testimony of eighteen other witnesses and the affidavits and statements of some forty additional persons. On May 23, 1952, McElvain notified petitioner that the Agency Board had determined that, on all the evidence, there was no reasonable doubt as to petitioner's loyalty.

Thereafter, on April 6, 1953, petitioner was advised by the Loyalty Review Board that it had determined to conduct a 'post-audit' of the Agency Board's determination and, to this end, 'hold a hearing and reach its own decision.' 3 The hearing was held on May 12, 1953, in New Haven, before a panel of the Board consisting of respondents Hessey, Amen, and King. Once again, as at the previous hearing, the only evidence adduced was presented by petitioner. In his own testimony, petitioner denied membership in the Communist Party, discussed his political beliefs and his motives for engaging in the activities and associations which were the subject of the charges, and answered all questions put to him by the Board. In support of petitioner's testimony, five witnesses stated their long acquaintance with petitioner and their firm conviction of petitioner's loyalty.4 In addition to this evidence, the record before the Board contained information supplied by informants whose identity was not disclosed to petitioner. The identity of one or more, but not all, of these informants was known to the Board. The information given by such informants had not been given under oath. The record also contained the evidence adduced by petitioner at the previous hearing. On this record, the Board determined that 'on all the evidence, there is a reasonable doubt as to Dr. Peters' loyalty to the Government of the United States.'

By letter of May 22, 1953, the Chairman of the Board advised petitioner of the Board's finding. The letter further stated that respondent Hobby had been notified of the decision and that petitioner had 'been barred from the Federal service for a period of three years from May 18, 1953, and any and all pending applications or existing eligibilities are cancelled.' The order of debarment was made by the Board on behalf of the Civil Service Commission, composed of respondents Young, Moore, and Lawton.5 Following his removal and after an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a rehearing, petitioner brought the instant suit, naming each of the respondents as a defendant.


In his complaint, petitioner contends that the action taken against him was 'in violation of Executive Order 9835 and the Constitution of the United States * * *.' In support of his contention that the action violated the Executive Order, he makes the allegation, among others, that the Loyalty Review Board 'exercised power beyond its power 'to make advisory recommendations * * * to the head of the * * * agency', as defined by Executive Order 9835, Part III, § 1a * * *.' On the constitutional level, petitioner complains chiefly of the denial of any opportunity to confront and cross-examine his secret accusers. He alleges that his removal and debarment deprived him 'of liberty and property without due process of law in that they branded him as a person disloyal to his country, arbitrarily, without basis in fact, and without a fair procedure and hearing.' In addition, he alleges that 'The imposition of the penalty of ineligibility for government service constituted a violation of the prohibition against bills of attainder and ex post facto laws by punishing the plaintiff by declaring him ineligible to serve the Government without a judicial trial or a fair administrative hearing * * *.' Finally, petitioner alleges that his removal and debarment, solely on the basis of his political opinions, violated his right to freedom of speech.

In this Court, petitioner urges us to decide the case on the constitutional issues. These issues, if reached by the Court, would obviously present serious and far-reaching problems in reconciling fundamental constitutional guarantees with the procedures used to determine the loyalty of government personnel. Compare Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183, 73 S.Ct. 215, 97 L.Ed. 216; United States...

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