Vitarelli v. Seaton

LOCATION: S.S. Guadalupe

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 359 US 535 (1959)
ARGUED: Apr 01, 1959 / Apr 02, 1959
DECIDED: Jun 01, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for Vitarelli v. Seaton

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 02, 1959 in Vitarelli v. Seaton

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 01, 1959 in Vitarelli v. Seaton

Earl Warren:

Number 101, William Vincent Vitarelli, petitioner, versus Fred A. Seaton, Secretary of the Interior, et al.

Clifford J. Hynning:

Mr. Chief Justice --

Earl Warren:

Mr. Hynning, is that correct pronunciation?

Clifford J. Hynning:

That's correct.

Please the court.

This case is here on a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals of District of Columbia Circuit.

It involves a former governmental employee, an educational employee of the Department of Interior who was removed in 1954 as a security risk from a position, which the government concedes, was non-insensitive, this is, this case doesn't involve any issue of secrets information, confidential information or anything of that sort.

The suit was instituted in the summer of 1956.

It was heard on cross motions for summary judgment in the District Court, which granted the summary motion for the government.

Then it went up to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed it.

Now it is our contention here that the firing of this governmental employee from a non-sensitive position has a security risk and under the purported authority of a security order in the security act, it was unlawful under the decision of this court in Cole versus Young.

And that he was therefore entitled to reinstatement as a result of a fact that his firing was unlawful.

Now we are asked -- we asked in the District Court for both an order expunging the record and declaring the firing to be unlawful and for reinstatement.

We achieved part of that through a so-called voluntary expunging of the record.

The issue here is whether the firing was so unlawful that he was entitled to -- is entitled to reinstatement.

Now turning to the facts --


Clifford J. Hynning:

That is correct, at the time of his removal.

Now there are certain changes that have occurred in the personnel policy of the Department of Interior that I am going to allude to later which somewhat modifies the answer to that question.

I think it's necessary here to recall a little bit of the political atmosphere of 1954 when this security board -- when he was suspended and when he had his hearing before the security board.

This was at a time prior to the decisions of this Court in Peters, in Service and Cole and there was a common assumption within the government that at a security hearing there were no legal problems or constitutional problems.

That appeared to be the result of the decision of this Court in Bailey against Richardson which had been affirmed by an equal division.

Now Vitarelli, as I said, was a teacher, an educational employee of the Office of Trust Territories of the Department of the Interior.

He was employed to train native teachers out in the Caroline Islands.

Now these Caroline Islands are islands being administered by the United States in trust for the United Nations.

They were the islands that were previously administered by Japan as mandated islands under the League of Nations.

Now this case started initially with a newspaper interview with a high commissioner of the trust territories of the pacific, and this was printed in a Guam newspaper of March 13, 1954 and it's been reproduced as Pages 1 and 2 of the record in this case.

The headline here was that it was going to be a security probe in the trust isles and that five employees were to be ousted as bad risks or asked to resign.

And an example was given of a known conscientious objector where the high commissioner stated that an advocate of pacifism is out of place and so sensitive and strategic in area as the trust territories.

I think this is a little ironic to find the high commissioner of trust territories believing that pacifist is out of place in some islands being administered by the United States in trust for the World Peace Organization.