United States v. Robel

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Eugene Frank Robel
LOCATION: Todd Pacific Shipyards

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)
LOWER COURT: Federal district court

CITATION: 389 US 258 (1967)
ARGUED: Nov 14, 1966
REARGUED: Oct 09, 1967
DECIDED: Dec 11, 1967

John J. Abt - argued and reargued for the appellee
Kevin T. Maroney - argued and reargued for the United States

Facts of the case

Eugene Robel, a member of the Communist Party, was charged with violating the Subversive Activities Control Act when he remained an employee at the Todd Pacific Shipyards. Under the Act, it was illegal for a member of the Party to remain employed at a location that the Secretary of Defense names as a “defense facility”. The district court dismissed the indictment because it did not allege that Robel was an active member of the Communist Party. The district court felt that this provision of the Act violated the First Amendment right to association if it applied to inactive Party members. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified the case for direct appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Does the Act’s bar on Communist Party member employment in a “defense facility” violate the First Amendment right of association?

Media for United States v. Robel

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 14, 1966 in United States v. Robel

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 09, 1967 in United States v. Robel

Earl Warren:

Number 8, United States, appellant, versus Eugene Frank Robel.

We will start the argument right after recess.

Kevin T. Maroney:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This is a criminal case which is here for reargument.

It having been argued but not decided at the last term.

As the Court will recall, the case is here on direct appeal from the Western District of Washington from a District Court's dismissal of the indictment which charged that the appellee unlawfully from November 1962 to the date of the indictment in May 1963 was engaged in employment in a defense facility designated as such by the Secretary of Defense while at the same time being a member of the Communist Party with knowledge of the designation as a defense facility of the Todd Shipyard where he was employed, and also with knowledge of the Communist parties having been finally ordered to register as a Communist-action organization.

The Court will also recall that on appellee's motion in the District Court, the district judge ruled that in order for the statute under which the indictment was brought to be held constitutional within the decisions by this Court in Scales, Newdow, Brown and Aptheker.

The Government would have to plead and prove that the defendant was an active member of the party, that he had the specific intent to bring about the violent overthrow of the Government and that he had knowledge, personal knowledge of the unlawful objectives of the party.

In short, the District Court held that the Government would have to plead and prove what amounts to a Smith Act membership case, which of course which construction of the statute would make this statute a complete nullity.

The Government of course in the lower court took the position that under the statute, we did not have to plead or prove any of those three elements.

The pertinent parts of the statute --

Potter Stewart:

Mr. Maroney, I feel -- is this case decided by the District Court before our circuit court?

Kevin T. Maroney:

No, sir.

Aptheker was one of the four cases of this Court that the District Court relied on in support of his constitutional interpretation of the statute.

He specifically referred to and relied on this Court's decisions in Scales, Newdow, Brown and Aptheker.

So that Aptheker was part of the basis for the district judge's decision.

Now, the pertinent parts of the statute are set forth in our appendix on our brief on reargument at page 13.

Section 3(3) of the statute of course defines a Communist-action organization, which the Court is familiar with that definition, as being an organization dominated and controlled by the Soviet Union and operated primarily to advance the objectives of the Soviet Union.

The term facility' is also defined in the statute as being any plant, factory, or other manufacturing, producing or service establishment, airport, airport facility, vessel, pier, waterfront facility, mine, railroad, public utility, laboratory, station or other establishment or facility or any part thereof.

The term defense facility' means any facility designated by the Secretary of Defense pursuant to Section 5(b).

Now, Section 5 which is the critical part of the statute I believe for the purposes of the argument this morning, today.

Section 5(a) says that when a Communist organization is registered and more specifically when the Communist organization is a Communist-action organization, it shall be unlawful for a member of the Communist-action organization to engage in an employment in any defense facility.

Subsection B of that same section authorizes and directs the Secretary of Defense to designate facilities as defined in the previous -- the earlier Section 3(7).

With respect to the operation of which, he finds and determines that the security of the United States requires the application of the provisions of subsection A, that is the prohibition against engaging in employment in a defense facility by a member of a Communist-action organization.

In setting this case for reargument, this Court asked that we address ourselves specifically to an additional question which was not raised by the parties in their briefs.

And that additional question is whether the delegation of authority to the Secretary of Defense to designate defense facilities satisfies pertinent constitutional standards.

Now, since the First Amendment aspects and due process aspects of the case were fully argued at the last term and in light of this additional question having been raised by the Court, I intend to confine my argument primarily to that additional question of the constitutionality of the designation of authority or the delegation of authority to the Secretary of Defense.

Briefly stated, the constitutional standards as to whether or not there is a proper delegation of authority by the legislature are (1) the establishment by the legislature of a legislative policy or a legislative purpose, and (2) the setting forth in the statute of an intelligible principle to govern the implementation of that legislative policy.

A long line of cases, including the Hirabayashi case and Yakus, Lichter, Panama Refining, a number of other cases establishes the principle that when Congress specifies what job must be done, who is to do it and what is the scope of his authority, that is a permissible delegation by the legislation.

Thus, in Yakus, this Court sustained the power of the administrator to fix prices of commodities which in his judgment would be fair and equitable and would effectuate the purposes of the Act, the purposes of the Act being to prevent inflation and that type of general statement of purpose.