United States v. Brown

Facts of the Case

Defendant Robert Lee Brown, an inmate at the United States Penitentiary at Terra Haute, Indiana, was charged with first-degree murder for “willfully, deliberately, and premeditatively” attacking and killing another inmate. According to the evidence, defendant stabbed the victim in the corridor of the penitentiary. The jury found defendant guilty of first-degree murder. On appeal, defendant asserted that there was insufficient evidence of premeditation, and asked the Court to reduce his conviction from first-degree murder to second-degree murder.


Does section 504 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 violate the First or Fifth Amendments or Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution?


Yes, section 504 violates Article I of the Constitution. In 5-4 opinion authored by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court found that section 504 was indeed a bill of attainder. Section 504, the Chief Justice argued, plainly constituted a bill of attainder, defined in the opinion as legislative punishment, of any form or severity, of specifically designated persons or groups, by designating in no uncertain terms the persons who posses the feared characteristics. After finding that section 504 violated the Bill of Attainder Clause, the Court found no need to address questions pertaining to the First and Fifth Amendments.

Case Information

  • Citation: 381 US 437 (1965)
  • Argued: Mar 29, 1965
  • Decided Jun 7, 1965