United States v. Brown

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Longshore and Warehouse Union

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 381 US 437 (1965)
ARGUED: Mar 29, 1965
DECIDED: Jun 07, 1965

Facts of the case

Section 504 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) of 1959 forbids any member of the Communist Party from serving as an executive officer of a labor union, with the goal of preventing politically-motivated strikes that would pose a danger to the national economy. Archie Brown, a San Francisco longshoreman and admitted member of the Communist Party, was three times elected to the executive board of the local International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union from 1959 through 1961. On May 24, 1961, Brown was charged with violating section 504 of the LMRDA. No evidence was presented at trial suggesting that Brown was involved in any other illegal activity or plotting a political strike. Brown was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed the conviction and found that section 504 violated the First and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution. In response to appeal by the United States to the Supreme Court, Brown also argued that section 504 constitutes a bill of attainder, a law that targets a single individual or group, and therefore violates Article I, Section 9.


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?

Media for United States v. Brown

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 29, 1965 in United States v. Brown

Earl Warren:

399, United States, Petitioner, versus Archie Brown.

Mr. Solicitor General.

Archibald Cox:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This criminal case here on certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit involves the constitutionality of Section 504 of the Labor Management Reporting and the Disclosure Act of 1959.

On Section 504, it's reprinted at page 2 of the government's brief.

The relevant parts of it read, “No person who is or has been a member of the Communist Party or who has been convicted of a series of major crimes shall serve as an officer, director, trustee, member of any executive board or similar governing body or as various paid employees of any labor organization during or for five years after the termination of his membership in the Communist Party or where it involved his conviction of any of those crimes.

Violation of this section is punishable by a fine or imprisonment.

And where it is to the background of Section 504 seems relevant.

Now, taken as a whole, it was enacted as part of a rather comprehensive view -- review of the National Labor Policy, but a review concerned primarily with abuses in the direction of labor unions and the management of their internal affairs.

In the main and again taken in general, now Section 504 resulted from evidence before the McLachlan Investigating Committee which showed that a number of unions had admitted criminal elements into office of the other important paid positions for improper and often criminal purposes to the injury both of the union members and the general public.

A part of the remedy Congress concluded was to prohibit convicted criminals for a period of time from holding union office or from holding important paid positions.

When I say for a shorthand union office, I don't mean to exclude the others in the string but that's a convenient way to express myself.

Now, we're not concerned immediately with convictions of crime.

Here, we're concerned with membership in the Communist Party.

Arthur J. Goldberg:

Mr. Solicitor General, in this respect the statute as you have now described it is different.

We don't have the statute before us which would say that a union officer was convicted for example for violating the Smith Act isn't eligible to serving.

Archibald Cox:


Indeed -- indeed I believe that isn't one of the crimes listed.

Now, this is simply one who is a member of the Communist Party.

At the same time, Congress was dealing with the problem of criminals in important positions in labor unions.

It reviewed the parallel problem although a somewhat different problem of permitting the Communist Party from taking over positions of power in labor unions also to the injury of union members and the general public.

In 1959, as you will recall, the existing law was Section 9 (h) of the Taft-Hartley Act.

Now, the statute upheld that American Communications Workers against Douds.

Section 9 (a) which was designed to serve the purpose I've mentioned prohibited -- provided that no labor organization should enjoy the use of the facilities of the National Labor Relations Board, unless they were on file affidavits from all its officers to the effect that at the time of making the affidavit they were not members of the Communist Party.

And this supplied generally to every officer of every union that wished to take a case before the National Labor Relations Board.

In the 10 or 11 years since the enactment of Section 9(a), it had proved faulty for a number of reasons.

For one thing on its face, it was an obvious upfront to union officers whose loyalty was unquestioned.

It had proved burdensome and unworkable in other respects that I'll outline further on my argument.

Accordingly, what Congress did in the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act was to repeal Section 9(h) and substitute the provisions of Section 504 which forbid of -- members of the Communist Party to be officers of labor unions.

Now, in the present case, I must emphasize, that we deal only with the prohibition against holding union office and being a member of the Communist Party after the enactment of Section 504 and that one and the same time, the statute has a broader reach in some respect but the evidence at respondent's trial showed very plainly that he was not only a member but a rather active functionary of the Communist Party while he was serving on the Executive Board of Local 10 of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Worker's Union, and that those events did take place after the enactment of the statute.