Communist Party of United States v. Subversive Activities Control Bd.

PETITIONER: Communist Party of United States
RESPONDENT: Subversive Activities Control Bd.

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

ARGUED: Nov 17, 1955
DECIDED: Apr 30, 1956

Facts of the case


Media for Communist Party of United States v. Subversive Activities Control Bd.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 17, 1955 (Part 2) in Communist Party of United States v. Subversive Activities Control Bd.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 17, 1955 (Part 1) in Communist Party of United States v. Subversive Activities Control Bd.

Earl Warren:

Number 48, Communist Party of the United States of America versus Subversive Activities Control Board.

Mr. Abt.

John J. Abt:

Thank you, sir.

May it please the Court.

This case brings here for review a decision of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, Judge Bazelon dissenting, which affirmed an order of the Subversive Activities Control Board ordering the petitioner to register as a Communist action organization under Section 7 of the Subversive Activities Control Act.

The order of the Board was issued after a hearing held pursuant to the Act and was accompanied by a report in which the Board set forth its findings as to the facts.

The case in our view presents questions of the highest public importance as to the constitutionality of the Act, and also as to the Act's application by the Board and the court below.

The Act was passed over a Presidential veto in September of 1950 during the early months of the Korean War.

The first point that I shall argue here today is that the Act, on its face, and as applied, violates the First Amendment.

I shall show that under the guise of a registration statute, the Act, in fact, represents an attempt, I submit, without precedent in this country to -- to coerce conformity by suppressing advocacy, association and collective activity for wholly legitimate purposes.

The Act provides for proceedings before the Board to be initiated upon petitions of the Attorney General, to determine subject to judicial review whether an organization is a Communist action, a Communist front, or a Communist infiltrated organization, all three of these organizations being collectively referred to as Communist organizations.

A Communist action organization is defined in Section 3 (3) of the Act as an organization which, and I quote, "(1) is substantially directed, dominated, or controlled by the foreign government or foreign organization controlling the world Communist movement referred to in Section 2 of this title, and (2) operates primarily to advance the objectives of such world Communist movement as referred to in Section 2 of this Title."

Section 2 finds that the world Communist movement referred to in this definition is directed and controlled by a foreign power, operates through the medium of world -- of a worldwide Communist organization composed of Communist action organizations in the various countries.

And has as its purpose the establishment of Communist totalitarian dictatorships throughout the world by means of espionage, sabotage, terrorism, treachery, deceit, infiltration, and any other means deemed necessary.

Communist-front and the Communist infiltrated organizations are defined by the Act in terms of their control by a Communist-action organization and their purpose or objective of effectuating the purposes of a Communist-action organization.

Communist action and front organizations are required to register as such with the Attorney General when a registration order issued by the Board becomes final as it does upon the exhaustion of judicial review.

Communist infiltrated organizations are not required to register but are deprived of the benefits of the National Labor Relations Act.

The registration statement of a Communist-action organization must list the names and addresses of all of the officers and of all of the members of the organization, give a detailed financial accounting, and list of printing, mimeographing and other duplicating equipment in the possession of the organization, its members or other organizations in which it has an interest.

Is there in the record a sample registration form?

John J. Abt:

Not in the record, Your Honor.

The Attorney General has prepared and publicized and has available such forms, and I'm, if the Court, of course, may take judicial notice of those forms.

Members whose names are, let me say it first, the registration statements are open for public inspection and they must also be kept current biannual reports.

Members whose names are not listed in a registration statement filed by the organization must register themselves after a -- an administrative determination of their membership in the organization.

Now, in view of the definition of a Communist action organization in the Act, it is clear that a registration order requires the organization to stigmatize itself or the members that they require to register to stigmatize themselves as participants in a foreign controlled seditious conspiracy.

The failure of the officers to comply with this requirement by registering the organization, or the failure of the members to register themselves, if they are required to do so, is punishable by five years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine, both cumulative for each day that the failure to register continues.

So the penalties may become almost astronomical.

A final registration order also automatically invokes a series of crippling sanctions against both the organization and its members.

All of these sanctions, it's important to note and should be emphasized, become operative whether or not the organization registers or whether or not the members register.

In other words, compliance relieves neither the organization nor the members from these sanctions.

Sanctions are the following, first, the organization must label all literature and publications which it distributes in the mails or through interstate commerce identifying them as disseminated by a Communist organization.