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First Amendment Library:
John J. Abt


The Subversive Activities Control Act required the Communist Party to register with the Attorney General. The Supreme Court ruled that the registration requirements did not violate the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech or association because of the serious threat Communism posed to the country.


This case, like No. 1, Scales v. United States, ante, p. 203, was brought here to test the validity of a conviction under the membership clause of the Smith Act. 361 U. S. 813. The case comes to us from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit which affirmed petitioner's conviction in the District Court for the Western District of New York, after a jury trial. 262 F. 2d 501.


This appeal draws into question the constitutionality of § 5 (a) (1) (D) of the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950, 64 Stat. 992, 50 U. S. C. § 784 (a) (1) (D),[1]*260 which provides that, when a Communist-action organization[2] is under a final order to register, it shall be unlawful for any member of the organization "to engage in any employment in any defense facility." In Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 367 U. S. 1 (1961), this Court sustained an order of the SACB requiring the Communist Party of the United States to register as a Communist-action organization under the Act. The Board's order became final on October 20, 1961. At that time appellee, a member of the Communist Party, was employed as a machinist at the Seattle, Washington, shipyard of Todd Shipyards Corporation. On August 20, 1962, the Secretary of Defense, acting under authority delegated by § 5 (b) of the Act, designated that shipyard a "defense facility." Appellee's continued employment at the shipyard after that date subjected him to prosecution under § 5 (a) (1) (D), and on May 21, 1963, an indictment was filed charging him with a violation of that section. The indictment alleged in substance that appellee had "unlawfully and willfully engage[d] in employment" at the shipyard with knowledge of the outstanding order against the Party and with knowledge and notice of the shipyard's designation as *261 a defense facility by the Secretary of Defense. The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington granted appellee's motion to dismiss the indictment on October 4, 1965. To overcome what it viewed as a "likely constitutional infirmity" in § 5 (a) (1) (D), the District Court read into that section "the requirements of active membership and specific intent." Because the indictment failed to allege that appellee's Communist Party membership was of that quality, the indictment was dismissed. The Government, unwilling to accept that narrow construction of § 5 (a) (1) (D) and insisting on the broadest possible application of the statute,[3] initially took its appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On the Government's motion, the case was certified here as properly a direct appeal to this Court under 18 U. S. C. § 3731. We noted probable jurisdiction. 384 U. S. 937.[4] We affirm the judgment of the District Court, but on the ground that § 5 (a) (1) (D) is an unconstitutional abridgment of the right of association protected by the First Amendment.[5]*262 We cannot agree with the District Court that § 5 (a) (1) (D) can be saved from constitutional infirmity by limiting its application to active members of Communist-action organizations who have the specific intent of furthering the unlawful goals of such organizations. The District Court relied on Scales v. United States, 367 U. S. 203 (1961), in placing its limiting construction on § 5 (a) (1) (D). It is true that in Scales we read the elements of active membership and specific intent into the membership clause of the Smith Act.[6] However, in Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U. S. 500 (1964), we noted that the Smith Act's membership clause required a defendant to have knowledge of the organization's illegal advocacy, a requirement that "was intimately connected with the construction limiting membership to `active' members." Id., at 511, n. 9. Aptheker involved a challenge to § 6 of the Subversive Activities Control Act, 50 U. S. C. § 785, which provides that, when a Communist organization is registered or under a final order to register, it shall be unlawful for any member thereof with knowledge or notice thereof to apply for a passport. We held that "[t]he clarity and preciseness of the provision in question make it impossible to narrow its indiscriminately cast and overly broad scope without substantial rewriting." Id., at 515. We take the same view of § 5 (a) (1) (D). It is precisely because that statute sweeps indiscriminately across all types of association with Communist-action groups, without regard to the quality and degree of membership, that it runs afoul of the First Amendment.