Lightfoot v. United States

PETITIONER: Claude Mark Lightfoot
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Illinois General Assembly

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 355 US 2 (1957)
ARGUED: Oct 11, 1956
DECIDED: Oct 14, 1957

John J. Abt - for the petitioner
J. Lee Rankin - Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States

Facts of the case


Media for Lightfoot v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 11, 1956 in Lightfoot v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 32, Claude Mack Lightfoot versus the United States of America.:

John J. Abt:

Mr. Abt.

Thank you, Your Honor.

May it please the Court.

This case, like the one that you have just heard, involves a conviction under the membership clause of the Smith Act.

The indictments in the two cases are identical except for the names of the defendants and allegations as to venue.

The trial here, which was the first trial under the membership clause, preceded that by -- in Scales by some three months.

The indictment, I may say, was returned in May of 1954.

Petitioner was sentenced to a $5000 fine and a five-year prison sentence, and the conviction was affirmed in the Seventh Circuit.

This case, like Scales, raises questions as to the constitutionality of the membership clause on its face and the effect of Section 4 (f) of the Internal Security Act as a bar to the indictment.

I shall have something to add to what has already been said on those questions a little later.

But I first want to discuss our contention that the record in this case required a judgement of acquittal.

Important questions concerning the evidence necessary to sustain a Smith Act conviction had been argued in the Yates or submitted in the Yates and Scales cases.

I believe, however, that this record presents in the sharpest and most extreme form the question as to whether a Communist defendant in a Smith Act case is to be entitled to the long accepted and constitutionally protected standards governing proof of guilt.

Before I come to the facts, I should like to make two preliminary observations.

First, in contradistinction to the Yates case, the testimony here, fortunately, occupies less than 500 pages of the record and indeed, the disputed questions of fact -- as I think they appear from our brief and the respondent's brief, relate to, perhaps, four matters involving no more than a dozen pages of the record.

Second, during the argument in Yates, Mr. Justice Harlan asked this question.

If the Communist Party had been the defendant, would there have been enough evidence to go to the jury on the question of its advocacy of prescribed doctrine?

The answer to that question, Mr. Justice Harlan, in this case is a clear unqualified and unequivocal no.

This for the reason among others, that the only witness for the prosecution on that branch of the case testified that the advocacy of the organization was peaceable.

I shall return to that point later.

At the trial, the petitioner acknowledged that he had been a member and officer of the Communist Party for many years.

He had held various offices in the Illinois organization and, at the time of the indictment, was also an alternate member of the National Committee of the national organization.

Thus, the issues of fact were confined to his knowledge and intent.

First, during a three-year statutory period did he know the Communist Party as a society of persons who, in the language of incitement, advocated the violent overthrow of the Government as soon as circumstances would permit.

And second, during that three-year period did he personally have the specific intent to bring about such overthrow as soon as circumstances would permit.

And may I say parenthetically here to dispose of that question at once the Medina incitement instruction was given in this case.

The prosecution called eight witnesses whose testimony was material and offered a number of exhibits.

The petitioner called no witnesses and offered but one exhibit.

All of the prosecution witnesses were former members of the Communist Party.