• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court’s denial of this appeal on behalf of the Rosenbergs, a couple convicted of espionage, led to their execution.

Julius RosenbergRosenberg, Julius and his wife, Ethel Rosenberg,Rosenberg, Ethel were convicted in 1951 of giving atomic and other military secrets to the Soviets in violation of the Espionage Act of 1917Espionage Act of 1917. The federal appeals court affirmed their conviction, and the Supreme Court initially refused to hear the case. However, legal counsel for the “next friend” of the Rosenbergs filed an appeal asserting that the 1946 Atomic Energy Act had superseded the 1917 act in requiring a jury determination before a capital punishment sentence could be imposed. Justice William O. Douglas found this a substantial legal question and granted a stay, but the Court’s majority vacated the stay two days later without hearing the case in full.Capital punishment;Rosenberg v. United States[Rosenberg v. United States]

Chief Justice Fred M. VinsonVinson, Fred M.;Rosenberg v. United States[Rosenberg v. United States] wrote the opinion for the 6-3 majority in upholding the convictions and death sentences of the Rosenbergs for conspiring to violate the 1917 act. The majority held that most of the activities occurred before the 1946 act was adopted and further that the 1946 act did not actually supersede the penalty section of the 1917 act. Subsequent discoveries in the files of the former Soviet Union cast grave doubt on whether Julius was ever more than a very minor spy and whether his wife was a spy at all.

Capital punishment

Cruel and unusual punishment

Due process, procedural

Eighth Amendment

Espionage acts

Subversion

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