Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board

PETITIONER: William Albertson, Roscoe Quincy Proctor
RESPONDENT: Subversive Activities Control Board
LOCATION: United States Department of Justice

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 382 US 70 (1965)
ARGUED: Oct 18, 1965
DECIDED: Nov 15, 1965
GRANTED: May 17, 1965

John J. Abt - for the petitioners
Kevin T. Maroney - for the respondent

Facts of the case

On November 22, 1950, the Attorney General petitioned the Subversive Activities Control Board for an order requiring the Communist Party to register under Section 7 of the Subversive Activities Control Act (SACA) as a Communist-action organization. The Court sustained this order in Communist Party of the United States v. Subversive Activities Control Board. On May 31, 1962, the Attorney General separately required William Albertson and Roscoe Quincy Proctor, as alleged members of the Communist Party, to fill out two registration forms each. Neither registration form was specifically mandated by the SACA.

Albertson and Proctor did not provide personal information required by the forms, instead asserting their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination before the board and denying that the Communist Party was a Communist-action organization. The Attorney General presented the testimony of paid Federal Bureau of Investigation informers that Albertson and Proctor participated in meetings of the Party and had been elected to Party offices. The board took official note of the proceedings and issued a final order stipulating that petitioners had not properly registered as members of the Communist Party. On appeal, the court held that Albertson and Proctor’s claims of privilege were premature in part because they had not yet been prosecuted for a criminal activity.


Did the member registration requirements of the Subversive Activities Control Act violate Albertson's and Proctor’s Fifth Amendment privileges against self-incrimination?

Media for Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 18, 1965 in Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board

Earl Warren:

Number 3, William Albertson, et al., Petitioners versus Subversive Activities Control Board.

Mr. Abt.

John J. Abt:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice.

May it please the Court.

This case brings to the Court for review the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, affirming two orders of the Subversive Activities Control Board, each order is addressed to one of the petitioners and requires him to register with the Attorney General under Sections 8 (a) and (c) of the Subversive Activities Control Act and I quote, “As a member of the Communist Party of the United States of America, a Communist-action organization.”

The Court has so -- the Board rather has so far issued similar orders against 40 other -- 41 other persons which it has been stipulated are to abide the result in this case.

The case is one of the sequels to the Court's 1961 decision in Communist Party versus Subversive Activities Control Board.

There, as you will recall, the Court affirmed the Board's 1953 finding that the Communist Party is a Communist-action organization and the order that it register as such under Section 7 of the Act.

The Court held, however, that it was premature to decide whether enforcement of this order was constitutionally permissible.

Under the Act's definitions, a Communist-action organization is a domestic agent of the World Communist Movement which Section 2 describes as a worldwide seditious conspiracy under the domination and control of the Soviet Union.

Section 8 (a) of the Act provides upon the failure of an organization to register as a Communist-action organization in obedience to a final registration order and to furnish the Attorney General with a list of its members.

It becomes the duty of each member to register himself.

Failure to register is not punishable at this point.

However, Section 13 provides for Board proceedings on petition of the Attorney General for a finding that an accused individual is a member of a Communist-action organization and for an order that he register as such.

One such a board order becomes final, failure to register is punishable by imprisonment for five years and a fine of $10,000 both penalties cumulative for each day that the failure to register continues.

Is there a hearing provided that the Attorney General makes such an application to find the mem -- an alleged member -- a member?

John J. Abt:

Oh yes, Justice Harlan.

There was in this case.

John J. Abt:

There was in this case and I'll come to a description of that here momentarily.

Section 8 (c) provides that the registration of an individual shall be accompanied by a registration statement containing such information as the Attorney General may by regulation prescribe.

Failure to file a statement is punishable by a -- by imprisonment for five years and a $10,000 fine but noncumulative.

Under regulations of the Attorney General, registration under Section 8 (a) is accomplished by filing a form, IS-52a which appears at page 65 of our brief, signed by the registrant and stating, and again I quote, “that he hereby registers as a member of blank,” naming the organization, “a Communist-action organization”.

The registration statement under 8 (c) consists of a separate form, Form IS-52, which is reproduced at page 66 of our brief which calls for the registrant's name and address, his aliases, the date and place of his birth, the name of the Communist-action organization of which he is a member, and the offices and the organization held by him during the preceding year.

Now, the Communist Party did not register subsequent to this Court's decision of 1961, instead, it has resisted enforcement of the Board's order that it do so in criminal proceedings in which it has reasserted all the constitutional objections to enforcement which this Court held premature in the '61 decision.

Its conviction in 1962 for failure to register was reversed by the Court of Appeals on the grounds that the Government had not met its burden of proving the existence of some person who is willing to incriminate himself by signing and submitting to the Attorney General of the required registration documents on behalf of the organization.

After the denial of certiorari, the Government moved for a retrial of this criminal case which is now scheduled to begin in the District Court on November first.

Was there a new indictment with that?

John J. Abt:

There was also a new indictment and the Government is retrying the old indictment pursuant to the option that the Court of Appeals gave and the Government secured a new indictment charging a subsequent failure to register on the part of the organization.

The District Court consolidated the two indictments and the consolidated case is going to trial, as I say, in November.

Meantime, in 1962, the Attorney General instituted the present proceedings before the Board, alleging that the Communist Party had not complied with the order that it register, petitioners who are members of the party and that they had not registered.