In 1943, during the pre-Cold War anticommunist hysteria, the House Committee on American Activities, after hearings, determined that Robert Lovett and two other federal employees were guilty of subversive activity. To force the executive branch to discharge these three employees, Congress adopted a rider to the Urgent Deficiency Appropriation Act of 1943, which denied the authority to pay salaries to these employees unless they were reappointed with the advice and consent of the Senate.
In 1943, the Dies Committee charged him as a communist subversive, over his association with left-wing individuals and groups; through a bill passed by both houses of the U. S. Congress, he was denied he was a Communist, challenged this action through the courts as an unconstitutional bill of attainder. The plaintiff in the case, the United States, argued that section 304 infringed the executive removal power and that it was a bill of attainder. The Bill of Attainder Clause of Article I of the Constitution prohibits any legislative act that inflicts punishment on an individual without judicial trial.
The argument served the goals of the executive department very nicely and they argued that the 304 was a bill of attainder “even if construed as expressing merely the judgment of Congress that respondents are unfit to hold Federal employment. ” At no point, they did not argue that even if the Court did find the 304 did more than cut off all sources of salary, it would still be a bill of attainder. The defendant, Lovett, argued that the section 304 was only intended to remove plaintiffs in Court.
They argued that the section denied the due process and equal protection. The bill of attainder was an issue that here accorded the best treatment it received during the litigation. Lovett, then decided that the case should be brought to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided that the statute was an unconstitutional bill of attainder. Justice Black identified three elements that distinguish bills of attainder from legitimate legislative acts. First, the statutes punish these individuals by excluding them from their chosen vocation.
Second, the statutes punish are specific in that they are designed to apply to particular individuals. Lastly, the statutes accomplish the punishment of the named individuals without a judicial trial. While relying on Legislative history, the Court found that the statute in Lovett clearly involved such punishment because it amounted to a congressional statement finding certain individuals guilty of subversive activity and sentencing them to the exclusion from governmental service. The decision of this case halted congressional efforts to punish individuals by name in statutes.
I disagree with the Court because when our Constitution and Bill of Rights were written, our ancestors had ample reason to know legislative trials and punishments were too dangerous to liberty to exist in the nation of free men they envisioned. They proscribed bills of attainder and section 304 is one. I disagree with the Court because as much as we do not like to declare that an Act of Congress violates the Constitution, we have no say so. I disagree with the Court because the bills of attainders are intended to safeguard the people from punishment without trial by duly constituted courts.