Pennsylvania v. Nelson

PETITIONER: Pennsylvania
LOCATION: Pittsburgh Party Headquarters

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)

CITATION: 350 US 497 (1956)
ARGUED: Nov 15, 1955 / Nov 16, 1955
DECIDED: Apr 02, 1956

Facts of the case

Nelson, a member of the Communist Party, was convicted of violating the Pennsylvania Sedition Act. This Act was implemented prior to Congress's adoption of the Smith Act of 1940 (amended in 1948) which prohibited the same conduct as Pennsylvania's law.


Did the Smith Act supersede enforcement of Pennsylvania's sedition law?

Media for Pennsylvania v. Nelson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 15, 1955 in Pennsylvania v. Nelson
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 16, 1955 (Part 2) in Pennsylvania v. Nelson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 16, 1955 (Part 1) in Pennsylvania v. Nelson

Earl Warren:

Number 10, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania versus Steve Nelson.

Mr. Thatcher.

Herbert S. Thatcher:

Your Honor, I think that the Attorney General of New Hampshire is to be next.

Earl Warren:

Well, oh, is that so?


Mr. Attorney General, you may proceed.

I --

Louis C. Wyman:

-- to Your Honor.

Earl Warren:

-- I didn't have your name here at the moment.

Louis C. Wyman:

May it please the Court.

Before proceeding with argument in this case, I would like to explain one or two of the reasons why I filed a brief amicus in this case and ultimately requested time to be heard orally.

New Hampshire was requested to do this by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

As Attorney General of New Hampshire, I have been in charge of a legislative investigation as the delegated committee, so to speak, for the last two years, to determine whether there were any violations of the Subversive Activities Act of our State, and to report to the general court.

In the process of conducting that investigation, one of the witnesses that was called, filed a petition with our Supreme Court asking that the subversive activities (Inaudible) New Hampshire of 1951 be declared unconstitutional.

That Act is patented after the Maryland over law and is very similar to the acts in perhaps 15 of the States.

It is also worthy of note in connection with this brief that has been filed amicus, that every Attorney General in the United States, in every State which has a law of any proportion in the field of subversive activities has joined in this brief with the exception of the Attorney General of Texas, who filed his own briefs which argues very much, I believe, the same propositions as are contained in the brief for the State of New Hampshire.

Felix Frankfurter:

I suppose that if I make the duty of Attorney General is to decide to state a law as it is?

Louis C. Wyman:

I believe that's true, Your Honor.

But in the --

Hugo L. Black:

How many States are represented here?

Louis C. Wyman:

There are 30 States, Your Honor.

And it's not appearing on the face of the brief by the States of California, Oregon, Kentucky, and Vermont, who filed supplementary statements with the clerk requesting to be known as parties to this brief.

There are approximately 17, I believe, in the States that do not have broad subversive activities laws in the country at the present time.

Our Supreme Court in New Hampshire --

Felix Frankfurter:

May I have a moment?

Louis C. Wyman:

Yes, sir.

Felix Frankfurter:

They use the word comprehensive (Inaudible)

Louis C. Wyman:

I believe, Your Honor, because of the inexplicable relationship in our law between advocacy of overthrow of the Federal Government and or the State of New Hampshire that it may very well, regardless of its separability provisions, involve the entire statute.

That is a question which ultimately would have to be passed upon by our Court.

Felix Frankfurter:

But it will be in court.