United States v. Robel, No. 8

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWARREN
Citation19 L.Ed.2d 508,389 U.S. 258,88 S.Ct. 419
PartiesUNITED STATES, Appellant, v. Eugene Frank ROBEL. Re
Docket NumberNo. 8
Decision Date11 December 1967

389 U.S. 258
88 S.Ct. 419
19 L.Ed.2d 508
UNITED STATES, Appellant,

v.

Eugene Frank ROBEL.

No. 8.
Reargued Oct. 9, 1967.
Decided Dec. 11, 1967.

Page 259

Kevin T. Maroney, Washington, D.C., for appellant.

John J. Abt, New York City, for appellee.

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

This appeal draws into question the constitutionality of § 5(a)(1)(D) of the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950, 64 Stat. 992, 50 U.S.C. § 784(a) (1) (D),1

Page 260

which provides that, when a Communist-action organization2 is under a final order to register, it shall be unlawful for any member of the organization 'to engage in any employment in any defense facility.' In Communist Party of U.S. v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 367 U.S. 1, 81 S.Ct. 1357, 6 L.Ed.2d 625 (1961), this Court sustained an order of the SACB requiring the Communist Party of the United States to register as a Communist-action organization under the Act. The Board's order became final on October 20, 1961. At that time appellee, a member of the Communist Party, was employed as a machinist at the Seattle, Washington, shipyard of Todd Shipyards Corporation. On August 20, 1962, the Secretary of Defense, acting under authority delegated by § 5(b) of the Act, designated that shipyard a 'defense facility.' Appellee's continued employment at the shipyard after that date subjected him to prosecution under § 5(a)(1)(D), and on May 21, 1963, an indictment was filed charging him with a violation of that section. The indictment alleged in substance that appellee had 'unlawfully and willfully engage(d) in employment' at the shipyard with knowledge of the outstanding order against the Party and with knowledge and notice of the shipyard's designation as

Page 261

a defense facility by the Secretary of Defense. The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington granted appellee's motion to dismiss the indictment on October 4, 1965. To overcome what it viewed as a 'likely constitutional infirmity' in § 5(a)(1)(D), the District Court read into that section 'the requirements of active membership and specific intent.' Because the indictment failed to allege that appellee's Communist Party membership was of that quality, the indictment was dismissed. The Government, unwilling to accept that narrow construction of § 5(a)(1)(D) and insisting on the broadest possible application of the statute, 3 initially took its appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On the Government's motion, the case was certified here as properly a direct appeal to this Court under 18 U.S.C. § 3731. We noted probable jurisdiction. 384 U.S. 937, 86 S.Ct. 1458, 16 L.Ed.2d 537.4 We affirm the judgment of the District Court, but on the ground that § 5(a)(1)(D) is an unconstitutional abridgment of the right of association protected by the First Amendment.5

Page 262

We cannot agree with the District Court that § 5(a)(1)(D) can be saved from constitutional infirmity by limiting its application to active members of Communist-action organizations who have the specific intent of furthering the unlawful goals of such organizations. The District Court relied on Scales v. United States, 367 U.S. 203, 81 S.Ct. 1469, 6 L.Ed.2d 782 (1961), in placing its limiting construction on § 5(a)(1)(D). It is true that in Scales we read the elements of active membership and specific intent into the membership clause of the Smith Act.6 However, in Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U.S. 500, 84 S.Ct. 1659, 12 L.Ed.2d 992 (1964), we noted that the Smith Act's membership clause required a defendant to have knowledge of the organization's illegal advocacy, a requirement that 'was intimately connected with the construction limiting membership to 'active' members.' Id., at 511, n. 9, 84 S.Ct. at 1666. Aptheker involved a challenge to § 6 of the Subversive Activities Control Act, 50 U.S.C. § 785, which provides that, when a Communist organization is registered or under a final order to register, it shall be unlawful for any member thereof with knowledge or notice thereof to apply for a passport. We held that '(t)he clarity and preciseness of the provision in question make it impossible to narrow its indiscriminately cast and overly broad scope without substantial rewriting.' Id., at 515, 84 S.Ct., at 1669. We take the same view of § 5(a)(1)(D). It is precisely because that statute sweeps indiscriminately across all types of association with Communist-action groups, without regard to the quality and degree of membership, that it runs afoul of the First Amendment.

In Aptheker, we held § 6 unconstitutional because it too broadly and indiscriminately infringed upon constitutionally protected rights. The Government has argued that, despite the overbreadth which is obvious on the face of § 5(a)(1)(D), Aptheker is not controlling in

Page 263

this case because the right to travel is a more basic freedom than the right to be employed in a defense facility. We agree that Aptheker is not controlling since it was decided under the Fifth Amendment. But we cannot agree with the Government's characterization of the essential issue in this case. It is true that the specific disability imposed by § 5(a)(1)(D) is to limit the employment opportunities of those who fall within its coverage, and such a limitation is not without serious constitutional implications. See Greene v. McElroy, 360 U.S. 474, 492, 79 S.Ct. 1400, 1411, 3 L.Ed.2d 1377 (1959). But the operative fact upon which the job disability depends is the exercise of an individual's right of association, which is protected by the provisions of the First Amendment.7 Whereever one would place the right to travel on a scale of constitutional values, it is clear that those rights protected by the First Amendment are no less basic in our democratic scheme.

The Government seeks to defend the statute on the ground that it was passed pursuant to Congress' war power. The Government argues that this Court has given broad deference to the exercise of that constitutional power by the national legislature. That argument finds support in a number of decisions of this Court.8 However, the phrase 'war power' cannot be invoked as a talismanic incantation to support any exercise of congressional power which can be brought within its ambit.

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'(E)ven the war power does not remove constitutional limitations safeguarding essential liberties.' Home Bldg. & Loan Assn. v. Blaisdell, 290 U.S. 398, 426, 54 S.Ct. 231, 235, 78 L.Ed. 413 (1934). More specifically in this case, the Government asserts that § 5(a)(1) (D) is an expression 'of the growing concern shown by the executive and legislative branches of government over the risks of internal subversion in plants on which the national defense depend(s).'9 Yet, this concept of 'national defense' cannot be deemed an end in itself, justifying any exercise of legislative power designed to promote such a goal. Implicit in the term 'national defense' is the notion of defending those values and ideals which set this Nation apart. For almost two centuries, our country has taken singular pride in the democratic ideals enshrined in its Constitution, and the most cherished of those ideals have found expression in the First Amendment. It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of one of those liberties—the freedom of association—which makes the defense of the Nation worthwhile.

When Congress' exercise of one of its enumerated powers clashes with those individual liberties protected by the Bill of Rights, it is our 'delicate and difficult task' to determine whether the resulting restriction on freedom can be tolerated. See Schneider v. State of New Jersey, 308 U.S. 147, 161, 60 S.Ct. 146, 150, 84 L.Ed. 155 (1939). The Government emphasizes that the purpose of § 5(a)(1)(D) is to reduce the threat of sabotage and espionage in the Nation's defense plants. The Government's interest in such a prophylactic measure is not insubstantial. But it cannot be doubted that the means chosen to implement that governmental purpose in this instance cut deeply into the right of association. Section 5(a)(1)(D) put appellee to the choice of surrender-

Page 265

ing his organizational affiliation, regardless of whether his membership threatenened the security of a defense facility,10 or giving up his job.11 When appellee refused to make that choice, he became subject to a possible criminal penalty of five years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. 12 The statute quite literally establishes guilt by association alone, without any need to establish that an individual's association poses the threat feared by the Government in proscribing it.13 The inhibiting effect on the exercise of First Amendment rights is clear.

It has become axiomatic that '(p)recision of regulation must be the touchstone in an area so closely touching our most precious freedoms.' NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 438, 83 S.Ct. 328, 340, 9 L.Ed.2d 405 (1963); see Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U.S. 500, 512—513, 84 S.Ct. 1659, 1667, 12 L.Ed.2d 992; Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 488, 81 S.Ct. 247, 252, 5 L.Ed.2d 231 (1960). Such precision is notably lacking in § 5(a)(1)(D). That statute casts its net across a

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broad range of associational activities, indiscriminately trapping membership which can be constitutionally punished14 and membership which cannot be so proscribed.15 It is made irrelevant to the statute's operation that an individual may be a passive or inactive member of a designated organization, that he may be unaware of the organization's unlawful airms, or that he may disagree with those unlawful aims.16 It is also made irrelevant that an individual who is subject to the penalties of § 5(a)(1)(D) may occupy a nonsensitive position in a defense facility.17 Thus, § 5(a) (1)(D) contains the fatal defect of overbreadth because it seeks to bar...

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406 practice notes
  • 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
    • April 17, 1972
    ...United States Civil Service Commission, 437 F.2d 1346 (4th Cir. 1971). Support for such a conclusion is drawn from United States v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258, 88 S.Ct. 419, 19 L. Ed.2d 508 which struck down a portion of the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950 as an unconstitutional abridgem......
  • Mancuso v. Taft, No. 72-1180.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • March 20, 1973
    ...drawn with `precision'. NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 438, 83 S.Ct. 328, 9 L.Ed.2d 405 (1963); United States v. Robel, 389 U.S. 253, 265, 88 S.Ct. 419, 19 L.Ed. 2d 508 (1967)". For three sets of reasons we conclude that the Cranston 476 F.2d 199 charter provision pursues its objective in a......
  • Law Students Civil Rights Research Coun., Inc. v. Wadmond, 68 Civ. 2917
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • February 17, 1969
    ...a position foreshadowed by Scales v. United States, 367 U.S. 203, 81 S.Ct. 1469, 6 L.Ed.2d 782 (1961). See also United States v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258, 88 S.Ct. 419, 19 L.Ed.2d 508 (1967); Haskett v. Washington, 294 F.Supp. 912 (D.D.C. 1968). Finally, what the Court struck down in Keyishian w......
  • U.S. v. Bin Laden, No. S(7) 98 CR.1023(LBS).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • December 5, 2000
    ...exercise of his foreign affairs power, the President is constrained by other provisions of the Constitution. See United States v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258, 264, 88 S.Ct. 419, 19 L.Ed.2d 508 (1967) ("It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
406 cases
  • 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
    • April 17, 1972
    ...United States Civil Service Commission, 437 F.2d 1346 (4th Cir. 1971). Support for such a conclusion is drawn from United States v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258, 88 S.Ct. 419, 19 L. Ed.2d 508 which struck down a portion of the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950 as an unconstitutional abridgem......
  • Mancuso v. Taft, No. 72-1180.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • March 20, 1973
    ...drawn with `precision'. NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 438, 83 S.Ct. 328, 9 L.Ed.2d 405 (1963); United States v. Robel, 389 U.S. 253, 265, 88 S.Ct. 419, 19 L.Ed. 2d 508 (1967)". For three sets of reasons we conclude that the Cranston 476 F.2d 199 charter provision pursues its objective in a......
  • Law Students Civil Rights Research Coun., Inc. v. Wadmond, 68 Civ. 2917
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • February 17, 1969
    ...a position foreshadowed by Scales v. United States, 367 U.S. 203, 81 S.Ct. 1469, 6 L.Ed.2d 782 (1961). See also United States v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258, 88 S.Ct. 419, 19 L.Ed.2d 508 (1967); Haskett v. Washington, 294 F.Supp. 912 (D.D.C. 1968). Finally, what the Court struck down in Keyishian w......
  • U.S. v. Bin Laden, No. S(7) 98 CR.1023(LBS).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • December 5, 2000
    ...exercise of his foreign affairs power, the President is constrained by other provisions of the Constitution. See United States v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258, 264, 88 S.Ct. 419, 19 L.Ed.2d 508 (1967) ("It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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