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Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board

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Significance: The Supreme Court upheld the registration provisions of the McCarran Act of 1950, although it declined to rule on the constitutionality of sanctions written into the act.


A five-member majority of the Supreme Court upheld the McCarran Act of 1950, which required members of the Communist Party to register and file financial statements with the Subversive Activities Control Board, which made them subject to sanctions such as being banned from work in the defense industry. Felix Frankfurter wrote the opinion for the Court and Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justices Hugo L. Black, William J. Brennan, Jr., and William O. Douglas dissented. Although the Court upheld the act's registration provisions, it declined to rule on enforcement until enforcement was attempted. This led some observers to believe that the Court might rule against the McCarran Act. In Aptheker v. Secretary of State (1964), the Court ruled the denial of passports to Communist Party members to be an unconstitutional violation of the right to travel. The next year, the Court struck down the registration provisions in Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board (1965), calling them a violation of Fifth Amendment rights as registration led to sanctions. These decisions destroyed the effectiveness of the Subversive Activities Control Board, and Congress allowed the board to expire in the early 1970's.