McCarran Act Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Statute also known as the Internal Security Act that aimed at stopping communist subversion in the United States.

The McCarran Act, sponsored by Senator Patrick A. McCarran of Nevada, attacked the alleged communist threat. It created a Subversive Activities Control Board that could, with approval of the U.S. attorney general, order an organization that it found to be communist to register with the Justice Department and submit information concerning its membership, activities, and finances. Furthermore, the act prohibited known communists from being employed by the federal government, denied them the right to use U.S. passports, and made it a felony for anyone to attempt to establish a totalitarian dictatorship in the United States. Another provision arranged for emergency arrest and detention of any person likely to commit espionage or sabotage.SubversionSubversionSubversive Activities Control Board

President Harry S Truman immediately vetoed the act on the grounds that it violated the Bill of Rights, but his veto was overridden by an 89 percent majority vote. McCarran’s newly formed Senate Internal Security Subcommittee worked closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and conducted hearings for the next twenty-seven years in an attempt to enforce the act. In Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board[case]Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board[Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board] (1961), the Supreme Court upheld the legality of registration but would not rule on the constitutionality of the 1950 act until it was enforced. In Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board[case]Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board[Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board] (1965), the Supreme Court ruled that registration, which could have negative repercussions, was self-incrimination and therefore violated the Fifth Amendment. In 1968 Congress amended the 1950 act to eliminate the self-registration requirements, and the act’s provisions were dismantled piece by piece during the 1970’s.

Cold War

National security


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