Nelson v. Los Angeles County

RESPONDENT: Los Angeles County
LOCATION: Fleetwood Paving Co.

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 362 US 1 (1960)
ARGUED: Jan 13, 1960
DECIDED: Feb 29, 1960

Facts of the case


Media for Nelson v. Los Angeles County

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 13, 1960 in Nelson v. Los Angeles County

Earl Warren:

Number 152, Thomas W. Nelson and Arthur Globe, Petitioners, versus County of Los Angeles et al.

Mr. Wirin.

A. L. Wirin:

May it please the Court.

The petition here involves the validity of a discharge by Los Angeles County of two of its employees and initially very broadly stated the question as whether or not the discharge was that these employees were so arbitrary as to violate the due process guarantee in the Fourteenth Amendment.

I think perhaps it maybe helpful if I would state to Your Honors in capsule form and very summarily the factual situation or the basis upon which the discharges were made.

It is our position that the discharge -- the discharge of both petitioners by the County was solely because of their appearance under subpoena before a committee of Congress, the House Committee on Un-American Activities upon which appearance both defendants refused to answer certain questions pertaining to affiliation, pertaining to a communist affiliation upon -- based upon the Fifth Amendment as well as the First.

It is our further contention that the inquiry conducted by the federal agency, House Committee on Un-American Activities was wholly unrelated to fitness for employment to loyalty in connection with fitness for employment by the County.

And our further contention that both the petitioners showed the utmost candor and cooperation so far as their employer was concerned by answering all questions pertaining to their opinion and affiliation when propounded to them by the employer.

And that therefore, the rationale if not the decision in Slochower against the Board accompanied by the gloss in Beilan against the Board and in Lerner versus Casey.

Results in a conclusion, this is our plain that the discharges here were arbitrary.

Let me put the problem a little bit differently.

In terms of a statute of California, the validity of which as applied we are challenging here.

That statute appears in the petitioners -- in the brief of petitioners, the white brief, on pages 2 and 3.

These petitioners were discharged by the County under this statute.

And as I say, as enforced against these petitioners, it is our contention that the statute violates due process.

The statute appears, as I see on pages 2 and 3.

I shall, in a moment, refer particular to page 3 of the last paragraph of the statute about the middle of the page.

But let me tell Your Honors what the statute provides.

It is a -- it is divisible in two parts, and I make the distinction and the division because we think it’s important to our case.

This statute imposes an obligation upon all public employees in California to answer certain questions pertaining to affiliation and requires their dismissal if they do not comply with that mandate.

It requires such employees to answer such questions when asked by the governing agency, governing body that appears on page 2.

That portion of the statute is not an issue here because as I have already said, these petitioners answered all questions asked by the governing agency and fulfilled every requirement of any kind imposed upon them by the governing agency.

But the statute goes one step further and it is in that regard that we are here.

The statute additionally imposes an obligation upon all public employees in -- by any governmental agency in California.

When appearing was subpoenaed before a committee -- a committee or subcommittee of Congress that appears, Your Honors, at page 2 where the Government Code is being quoted at about the sixth to seventh line of the quotation in the middle of the page.

Felix Frankfurter:

Excuse me -- forgive me for interrupting you.

A. L. Wirin:


Felix Frankfurter:

It started up by saying -- by dealing it's relevant to give the -- what you call in capsule from the situation of the fact -- the fact of this case.

A. L. Wirin:

Yes, sir.

I intend to develop the facts --