United States v. Brown, No. 399

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWARREN
Citation381 U.S. 437,14 L.Ed.2d 484,85 S.Ct. 1707
PartiesUNITED STATES, Petitioner, v. Archie BROWN
Decision Date07 June 1965
Docket NumberNo. 399

381 U.S. 437
85 S.Ct. 1707
14 L.Ed.2d 484
UNITED STATES, Petitioner,

v.

Archie BROWN.

No. 399.
Argued March 29, 1965.
Decided June 7, 1965.

Archibald

Page 438

Cox, Sol. Gen., for petitioner.

Richard Gladstein, San Francisco, Cal., for respondent.

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

In this case we review for the first time a conviction under § 504 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, which makes it a crime for a member of the Communist Party to serve as an officer or (except in clerical or custodial positions) as an employee of a labor union.1 Section 504, the purpose of which is to protect

Page 439

the national economy by minimizing the danger of political strikes,2 was enacted to replace § 9(h) of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended by the Taft-Hartley Act, which conditioned a union's access to the National Labor Relations Board upon the filing of affidavits by all of the union's officers attesting that they were not members of or affiliated with the Communist Party.3

Page 440

Respondent has been a working longshoreman on the San Francisco docks, and an open and avowed Communist, for more than a quarter of a century. He was elected to the Executive Board of Local 10 of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union for consecutive one-year terms in 1959, 1960, and 1961. On May 24, 1961, respondent was charged in a one-count indictment returned in the Northern District of California with 'knowingly and wilfully serv(ing) as a member of an executive board of a labor organization * * * while a member of the Communist Party, in wilful violation of Title 29, United States Code, Section 504.' It was neither charged nor proven that respondent at any time advocated or suggested illegal activity by the union, or proposed a political strike.4 The jury found respondent guilty, and he was sentenced to six months' imprisonment. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed and remanded with instructions to set aside the conviction and dismiss the indictment, holding that § 504 violates the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. 334 F.2d 488. We granted certiorari, 379 U.S. 899, 85 S.Ct. 187, 13 L.Ed.2d 174.

Respondent urges—in addition to the grounds relied on by the court below—that the statute under which he was convicted is a bill of attainder, and therefore violates Art. I, § 9, of the Constitution.5 We agree that § 504 is void as a bill of attainder and affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals on that basis. We therefore find it unnecessary to consider the First and Fifth Amendment arguments.

Page 441

I.

The provisions outlawing bills of attainder were adopted by the Constitutional Convention unanimously, and without debate.6

'No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed (by the Congress).' Art. I, § 9, cl. 3.

'No State shall * * * pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts * * *.' Art. I, § 10.

A logical starting place for an inquiry into the meaning of the prohibition is its historical background. The bill of attainder, a parliamentary act sentencing to death one or more specific persons, was a device often resorted to in sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century England for dealing with persons who had attempted, or threatened to attempt, to overthrow the government.7 In addition to the death sentence, attainder generally carried with it a 'corruption of blood,' which meant that the attainted party's heirs could not inherit his property.8 The 'bill of pains and penalties' was identical to the bill of attainder, except that it prescribed a penalty short of death,9 e.g., banishment,10 deprivation of the right to

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vote,11 or exclusion of the designated party's sons from Parliament. 12 Most bills of attainder and bills of pains and penalties named the parties to whom they were to apply; a few, however, simply described them. 13 While some left the designated parties a way of escaping the penalty, others did not.14 The use of bills of attainder and bills of pains and penalties was not limited to England. During the American Revolution, the legislatures of all thirteen States passed statutes directed against the Tories; among these statutes were a large number of bills of attainder and bills of pains and penalties.15

While history thus provides some guidelines, the wide variation in form, purpose and effect of ante-Constitution bills of attainder indicates that the proper scope of the Bill of Attainder Clause, and its relevance to contemporary problems, must ultimately be sought by attempting to discern the reasons for its inclusion in the Constitution, and the evils it was designed to eliminate. The best available evidence, the writings of the architects of our constitutional system, indicates that the Bill of Attainder Clause was intended not as a narrow, technical (and therefore soon to be outmoded) prohibition, but rather as an implementation of the separation of powers, a general safeguard against legislative exercise of the judicial function, or more simply—trial by legislature.

The Constitution divides the National Government into three branches—Legislative, Executive and Judicial.

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This 'separation of powers' was obviously not instituted with the idea that it would promote governmental efficiency. It was, on the contrary, looked to as a bulwark against tyranny. For if governmental power is fractionalized, if a given policy can be implemented only by a combination of legislative enactment, judicial application, and executive implementation, no man or group of men will be able to impose its unchecked will. James Madison wrote:

'The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.'16

The doctrine of separated powers is implemented by a number of constitutional provisions, some of which entrust certain jobs exclusively to certain branches, while others say that a given task is not to be performed by a given branch. For example, Article III's grant of 'the judicial Power of the United States' to federal courts has been interpreted both as a grant of exclusive authority over certain areas. Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 2 L.Ed. 60, and as a limitation upon the judiciary, a declaration that certain tasks are not to be performed by courts, e.g., Muskrat v. United States, 219 U.S. 346, 31 S.Ct. 250, 55 L.Ed. 246. Compare Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, 72 S.Ct. 863, 96 L.Ed. 1153.

The authors of the Federalist Papers took the position that although under some systems of government (most notably the one from which the United States had just broken), the Executive Department is the branch most likely to forget the bounds of its authority, 'in a representative republic * * * where the legislative power is exercised by an assembly * * * which is sufficiently numerous to feel all the passions which actuate a multitude; yet

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not so numerous as to be incapable of pursuing the objects of its passions * * *,' barriers had to be erected to ensure that the legislature would not overstep the bounds of its authority and perform the functions of the other departments.17 The Bill of Attainder Clause was regarded as such a barrier. Alexander Hamilton wrote:

'Nothing is more common than for a free people, in times of heat and violence, to gratify momentary passions, by letting into the government principles and precedents which afterwards prove fatal to themselves. Of this kind is the doctrine of disqualification, disfranchisement, and banishment by acts of the legislature. The dangerous consequences of this power are manifest. If the legislature can disfranchise any number of citizens at pleasure by general descriptions, it may soon confine all the votes to a small number of partisans, and establish an aristocracy or an oligarchy; if it may banish at discretion all those whom particular circumstances render obnoxious, without hearing or trial, no man can be safe, nor know when he may be the innocent victim of a prevailing faction. The name of liberty applied to such a government, would be a mockery of common sense.'18

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Thus the Bill of Attainder Clause not only was intended as one implementation of the general principle of fractionalized power, but also reflected the Framers' belief that the Legislative Branch is not so well suited as politically independent judges and juries to the task of ruling upon the blameworthiness, of, and levying appropriate punishment upon, specific persons.

'Every one must concede that a legislative body, from its numbers and organization, and from the very intimate dependence of its members upon the people, which renders them liable to be peculiarly susceptible to popular clamor, is not properly constituted to try with coolness, caution, and impartiality a criminal charge, especially in those cases in which the popular feeling is strongly excited,—the very class of cases most likely to be prosecuted by this mode.'19

Page 446

By banning bills of attainder, the Framers of the Constitution sought to guard against such dangers by limiting legislatures to the task of rule-making. 'It is the peculiar province of the legislature to prescribe general rules for the government of society; the application of those rules to individuals in society would seem to be the duty of other departments.' Fletcher v. Peck, 6 Cranch 87, 136, 3 L.Ed. 162.20

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II.

It is in this spirit that the Bill of Attainder Clause was consistently interpreted by this Court—until the decision in American Communications Ass'n v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 70 S.Ct. 674, 94 L.Ed. 925, which we shall consider hereafter. In 1810, Chief Justice Marshall, speaking for the...

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409 practice notes
  • Colgrove v. Battin 8212 1442, No. 71
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • 21 Junio 1973
    ...of the writ' and took note that the guarantee was one rooted in common law and should be so interpreted. Cf. United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437, 458, 85 S.Ct. 1707, 1720, 14 L.Ed.2d 484 (1965).' Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S., at 123—124, 90 S.Ct., at 1918. When a historical approach is ap......
  • Citizens for Equal Protection, Inc. v. Bruning, No. 4:03CV3155.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Nebraska
    • 12 Mayo 2005
    ...had sought to bar: legislative punishment, of any form or severity, of specifically designated persons or groups." United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437, 447, 85 S.Ct. 1707, 14 L.Ed.2d 484 (1965). See also Amar, supra at 203-235 (an historical overview of Bill of Attainder as it relates to E......
  • Mancuso v. Taft, Civ. A. No. 4751.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • 17 Abril 1972
    ...have a `less drastic' impact on the continued vitality of First Amendment freedoms. Shelton v. Tucker, supra; cf. United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437, 461 85 S.Ct. 1707, 1721, 14 L.Ed.2d 484 (1965). The Constitution and the basic position of First Amendment rights in our democratic fabric ......
  • Martin v. Houston, CASE NO. 2:14-CV-905-WKW
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama
    • 6 Abril 2016
    ...the English Parliament had done in earlier years, punish individually designated persons or groups without trial. United States v. Brown , 381 U.S. 437, 447, 85 S.Ct. 1707, 14 L.Ed.2d 484 (1965). Historically, these bills of attainder often named the particular persons to be punished. Selec......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
409 cases
  • Colgrove v. Battin 8212 1442, No. 71
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • 21 Junio 1973
    ...of the writ' and took note that the guarantee was one rooted in common law and should be so interpreted. Cf. United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437, 458, 85 S.Ct. 1707, 1720, 14 L.Ed.2d 484 (1965).' Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S., at 123—124, 90 S.Ct., at 1918. When a historical approach is ap......
  • Citizens for Equal Protection, Inc. v. Bruning, No. 4:03CV3155.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Nebraska
    • 12 Mayo 2005
    ...had sought to bar: legislative punishment, of any form or severity, of specifically designated persons or groups." United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437, 447, 85 S.Ct. 1707, 14 L.Ed.2d 484 (1965). See also Amar, supra at 203-235 (an historical overview of Bill of Attainder as it relates to E......
  • Mancuso v. Taft, Civ. A. No. 4751.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • 17 Abril 1972
    ...have a `less drastic' impact on the continued vitality of First Amendment freedoms. Shelton v. Tucker, supra; cf. United States v. Brown, 381 U.S. 437, 461 85 S.Ct. 1707, 1721, 14 L.Ed.2d 484 (1965). The Constitution and the basic position of First Amendment rights in our democratic fabric ......
  • Martin v. Houston, CASE NO. 2:14-CV-905-WKW
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama
    • 6 Abril 2016
    ...the English Parliament had done in earlier years, punish individually designated persons or groups without trial. United States v. Brown , 381 U.S. 437, 447, 85 S.Ct. 1707, 14 L.Ed.2d 484 (1965). Historically, these bills of attainder often named the particular persons to be punished. Selec......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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