• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court, in a rare move, struck a congressional enactment for violating the First Amendment.

The 1950 Subversive Activities Control Act required members of allegedly subversive organizations, such as the CommunistCommunism Party, to register with the Subversive Activities Control BoardSubversive Activities Control Board. Communist Party member Robel was indicted for working at a shipyard involved in the defense industry. By a 6-2 vote, the Supreme Court overturned Robel’s conviction and a section of the act. The Court argued that because the act made no distinction between active and passive members of allegedly subversive organizations, people could be found guilty by association. Chief Justice Earl Warren,Warren, Earl;Robel, United States v.[Robel, United States v.] in the opinion for the Court, found that the statute was overbroad in the activities it prohibited. This decision did not directly overturn Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board[case]Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board[Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board] (1961), but its practical effect was to render the board a nullity. Justices Byron R. White and John Marshall Harlan dissented. Justice Thurgood Marshall did not participate.Speech, freedom of;Robel, United States v.[Robel, United States v.]Assembly and association, freedom of;Robel, United States v.[Robel, United States v.]

The Warren Court around the time of its Robel decision. Its members (clockwise from upper left): Abe Fortas, Potter Stewart, Bryon R. White, Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan, Jr., William O. Douglas, Earl Warren, Hugo L. Black, and John Marshall Harlan II.

(Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)

Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board

Aptheker v. Secretary of State

Assembly and association, freedom of

Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board

Dennis v. United States

First Amendment

Scales v. United States

Yates v. United States

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