Nonviolent conflict between the United States and other Western nations and the Soviet Bloc. The efforts of the United States to combat communist ideology raised a number of constitutional issues that were addressed by the Supreme Court.
Shortly after the end of World War II (1941-1945), the United States and the Soviet Union became engaged in a military, economic, and ideological rivalry known as the Cold War. For more than four decades, the United States carried out a foreign policy aimed at halting the spread of Soviet influence abroad. This “containment” strategy had a domestic counterpart: preventing the infiltration of Soviet agents and the spread of communist ideology in the United States.
After World War II, successive presidential administrations and congressional leaders were concerned that Soviet agents and communist sympathizers were attempting to convert American public opinion toward their cause. Many leaders worried that the Soviets had already infiltrated some media outlets, the film industry, various universities, and even certain departments of the U.S. government. In response, the U.S. government enacted laws, executive orders, and policies to reduce or eliminate these threats. The enactment of these laws and policies brought up various constitutional issues most of which were addressed in some way by the Supreme Court. Among these issues were freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly.
In 1947 President Harry S Truman issued Executive Order 9835, which established loyalty
Loyalty oaths survived various legal challenges for most of the 1950’s. However, in Kent v. Dulles
In other cases, however, the Court rejected efforts to censor putatively dangerous publications and speech. In Lamont v. Postmaster General
Some laws enacted during the Cold War attempted to eradicate communist “cells,” which allegedly existed in a secret network directed by Moscow and intended to overthrow the U.S. government. The McCarran Act
Though these acts represent the height of anticommunist fervor in the United States, the Court did not rule on their constitutionality for a number of years. Eventually, though, major provisions of the acts were deemed to be unconstitutional.
The Vietnam War
The Court reined in the government’s use of the national security argument for censoring factual military information in New York Times Co. v. United States
In addition to matters of civil rights and liberties, the Cold War raises constitutional questions about the apportionment of war powers
The continuous sense of threat to the United States that existed during the Cold War, due in large part to the two superpowers’ nuclear arsenals, spawned the idea that the president should have enormous discretion in military deployments and war making, although this ability was not consistent with the Constitution. In retrospect, the Cold War was an almost surreal period in which the Court faced the difficult task of preserving the ideals of the Constitution in a global environment that threatened the country, its ideological values, and its population.
Hogan, Michael J. A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State, 1945-1954. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Neville, John F. The Press, the Rosenbergs, and the Cold War. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1995. Theoharis, Athan. Chasing Spies: How the FBI Failed in Counterintelligence but Promoted the Politics of McCarthyism in the Cold War Years. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2002. A skeptical account of FBI activities reveals the difficulty of securing convictions in espionage cases. Urofsky, Melvin I. Division and Discord: The Supreme Court Under Stone and Vinson, 1941-1953. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997. Zeinert, Karen. McCarthy and the Fear of Communism in American History. Springfield, N.J.: Enslow, 1998.
War and civil liberties