Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board


Significance: In this case, one of a series of decisions undermining 1950's anticommunist legislation, the Supreme Court struck down registration provisions of the 1950 McCarran Act.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Subversive Activities Control Board could not prosecute Communist Party members for failing to register with the board as mandated by the McCarran Act of 1950. The Court held that forced registration meant self-incrimination in other prosecutions. Even provisions granting registrants immunity from prosecution were inadequate to protect Communist Party members from violations of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In an earlier decision, Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board (1961), the Court had upheld the registration provisions of the act but declined to reach a conclusion on whether anyone could be prosecuted for refusing to register. Many legal authorities correctly surmised that the Court might not actually allow prosecutions. When enforcement of the act was attempted, the Court blocked it. Recognizing that the act was unenforceable, President Richard M. Nixon and Congress allowed the board to expire in the early 1970's.