McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950 Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

An outgrowth of the anticommunist hysteria during the early Cold War known as McCarthyism, the law prohibited individuals who were or had been members of registered communist organizations from entering the United States. It also allowed for the deportation of communists and other individuals deemed subversive by the federal government.

During the early Cold War period, the United States entered a period of intense fear and persecution of communism. The successful Soviet test of an atomic weapon in 1949, the establishment of a Communism;Chinacommunist government in China that same year, and the outbreak of the Korean WarKorean War in 1950 contributed to these fears. Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy is generally associated as the demagogue most responsible for exacerbating these tensions. Indeed, the anticommunist witch hunt of the early 1950’s is known as McCarthyism, but others in the federal government supported a similar agenda.[a]McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950[MacCarran Internal Security Act of 1950]Cold War;and immigration law[immigration law]Communism[a]McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950[MacCarran Internal Security Act of 1950]Cold War;and immigration law[immigrationlaw]Communism[cat]LAWS;McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950[03330][cat]SUBVERSIVE AND RADICAL POLITICAL MOVEMENTS;McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950[03330][cat]CRIME;McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950[03330][cat]DEPORTATION;McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950[03330]

Senator Pat McCarran in 1947.

(Library of Congress)

Pat McCarran, the Democratic senator from Nevada, was one of these supporters, and he sponsored the Internal Security Act of 1950 as a means of combating communism in the United States. The major thrust of the law was to prevent communist sympathizers from obtaining employment in defense industries. In order to accomplish this goal, organizations sympathetic to communist objectives were required to register with the newly created Subversive Activities Control Board (SACB). Past or present members of those organizations were then denied federal employment. The law also denied registered individuals from obtaining passports so that they were unable to leave the country.

McCarran also opposed immigration, and portions of the law directly targeted immigrants. Specifically, it prevented past or present members of communist organizations from entering the United States or from obtaining citizenship. The law had poorly defined standards for what constituted support of communism. As a result, members of foreign labor organizations or citizens of nations with communist governments could be denied entry without actually being practicing communists. Additionally, the law allowed the deportation of communist immigrants already within the United States, and it provided for the creation of detention centers where individuals deemed subversive could be held during times of emergency without trial. In effect, it changed the deportation from a punishment for actual crimes committed into a tool for eliminating political dissent in the immigrant community.

President Truman, Harry S.Harry S. Truman vetoed the security measures as a threat to civil liberties, but the next day, Congress overrode his veto by a substantial majority. Truman’s objections proved prophetic, and cases challenging the act quickly appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court. The first, [c]Carlson v. LandonCarlson v. Landon (1952), challenged the right of the government to detain immigrants without bail pending deportation hearings. The court ruled that while the U.S. Constitution protected naturalized citizens, it provided no such protections for resident aliens. The subsequent [a]Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952;and subversives[subversives]Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which was also sponsored by McCarran, further regulated immigration of communists and individuals deemed subversive by the government. Meanwhile, the Internal Security Act required the registration of communist organizations until the Supreme Court ruled in [c]Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control BoardAlbertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board (1963)that communists could not be required to register with the government because that violated the[a]Fifth AmendmentFifth Amendment rights to avoid self-incrimination.[a]McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950[MacCarran Internal Security Act of 1950]Cold War;and immigration law[immigration law]Communism

Further Reading
  • Oshinsky, David M. A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Patenaude, Marc. The McCarran Internal Security Act, 1950-2005. Saarbrücken, Germany: VDM Verlag, 2008.


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Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952

Immigration law

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Korean War

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