• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court invalidated an Arizona statute and its accompanying statutory gloss, which together required employees to take an oath to support the federal and state constitutions, threatening prosecution for perjury and immediate discharge of an employee belonging to any organization committed to overthrowing the government.

Barbara Elfbrandt, a teacher and a Quaker, refused to take the oath and sued on the grounds that the legislature had not adequately explained the meaning of the statute and its accompanying gloss. Her lawyers referred to Baggett v. Bullitt[case]Baggett v. Bullitt[Baggett v. Bullitt] (1964) and other cases in which the Supreme Court had struck down loyalty oaths that had restricted individual rights to free expression of ideas and political association.Loyalty oaths;Elfbrandt v. Russell[Elfbrandt v. Russell]

Speaking for a 5-4 majority, Justice William O. DouglasDouglas, William O.;Elfbrandt v. Russell[Elfbrandt v. Russell] argued that the legislative gloss interfered with the freedom of association guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. He referred to several precedents in which the Court had held that a blanket prohibition of association with groups having both legal and illegal purposes interfered with the freedom of political expression and association.

Elfbrandt was typical of a half dozen cases in which the Court overturned loyalty oaths on grounds of vagueness or overbreadth. However, in Cole v. Richardson[case]Cole v. Richardson[Cole v. Richardson] (1972), the Court upheld a requirement that state employees take an oath or affirmation similar to the one in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

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